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Meet Jonas Thompson, Mt. Washington Bicycle Hillclimb's youngest racer

Everyone has a story ...

Jonas Thompson was the youngest participant in the 2009 Mount Washington Auto Road Hill Climb on Aug. 15. Jay Philbrick. (click for larger version)
September 10, 2009
After meeting an extraordinarily special person at a racing event at the base of Mt. Washington, what are the chances of meeting that individual the following day in a boat moored at a seafood restaurant in Portsmouth, a place that neither person had frequented, hours and miles away from either's starting or finishing point?

Everyone has a story, but this is especially true of those involved in the 37th Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb recently held on Aug. 15. Considered one of the most challenging bicycle hillclimbs in the world, the event attracts a maximum of 600 riders and over 100 volunteers who selflessly wake at 4 a.m. to man the event helping to raise funds for Tin Mountain Conservation Center, an environmental education organization that promotes an appreciation of the natural environment.

This year's human interest stories could easily unfurl around the female top notch contenders Sue Schlatter 1:07:43, Marti Shea 1:10:12, and Kristen Gohr 1:11:09, or around the male contenders, Ned Overend (age 53) timing 16 seconds behind the overall male winner Phillip Gaimon (age 23).

At age 74, Ray Gengebach perhaps has more stories to tell than most, having cycled to and from the event from Amherst, Mass., with no more than a fanny pack and the clothes on his back. An interview with a pair of the three tandem riders, or the many local riders such as brothers Jordan and Ben Cargill (former Tin Mountain Conservation Center campers and counselors), or the lone unicyclist Eric Scheer could all lead to a great story.

Hands down, however, the most endearing story is that of the youngest cyclist to summit Mt. Washington, 10-year-old Jonah Thompson.

On first meeting this young athlete, one is immediately struck by his enthusiasm, lust for life, and charisma. Jonas' parents were originally from Eliot, Maine, and later moved to Albuquerque, N.M., where Jonas was born and raised.

Jonas was first invited to ride up Mt. Washington at the ripe age of seven by his dad, Mark Thompson, who was already a seasoned hillclimb rider with four successful ascents in '02, '03, '05 and '06 (missed '04 because the field of cyclists filled quicker than expected). Mark is no stranger to the Mt. Washington Valley and Presidential Range, having hiked the 4,000 footers while spending stays in North Conway with his mother.

Jonas Thompson and his dad started preparing for the hillclimb by riding the 10,000-foot Sandia Mountains near their home in New Mexico. Both dad and son registered for the 2007 hillcimb but because of unsafe weather conditions the race was cancelled. Looking to the next year, they continued to train, and both reached the top of the rock pile in 2008, making Jonas officially the youngest rider ever to race to the summit by bike at the young age of nine. When announcer Richard Fries recognized Jonas on stage, only the audience's cheers and standing ovation were larger than Jonas' smile.

This year, at age 10, Jonas (with good luck charm monkey peering over his handlebars and official race bib No. 755) crossed the finish line setting a personal best time of 1:38:48 and placing 291 overall.

After the awards ceremony, Jonas headed to the Mount Cranmore Fitness Center for some wall climbing.

The following day, at a chance meeting miles away from the Rockpile on a boat docked by a Portsmouth restaurant, an ecstatic Jonas greeted the Hillclimb's awards co-coordinator. His dad was also there and confessed that he was beginning to think that all people in New Hampshire looked very similar before he connected me with the Hillclimb.

In interviewing Jonas on the boat he stated, "It was the most beautiful day on top of the mountain ever! I did better this year because I trained more and the weather was so good. Everyone is so nice at the event."

For the past three years, including the year the race was cancelled, Jonas happily raised pledge money above his entry fee for Tin Mountain Conservation Center. Now those funds will go into a junior scholarship for him and other youngsters to continue racing the event.

Endurance, tenacity, determination, fortitude, and a will to succeed are part of the character of all that cycle to the top of Mount Washington. What makes Jonas so special is his intense passion and heart.

To a question asking what his goals for next year's race are, Jonas replied, "To enter and win the family category with my dad." According to his dad, Jonas' first passion is music. Look out world; you might just meet Jonas in the most unexpected places!

On-line registration for the 2010 Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb will open on Feb. 1, 2010, at 8 a.m. eastern time. For more information, log on to www.tinmountain.org and click on Mt. Washington bike events.

Martin Lord Osman
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