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  • Local dentist Dr. Gary Painter holds the American cycling record in two age categories. (Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette)(

Thursday, May 18, 2017 1:00 am

Local dentist likes 'to go fast'

US record-holder preparing to defend world championship

STEVE WARDEN | The Journal Gazette

With a tap of his cellphone, a video appears of Dr. Gary Painter in a recent two-man bicycle pursuit race in Indianapolis. Even though both riders start an equal distance from the other on opposite sides of the oval track, it doesn't take too many laps for Painter, hunched over his racing bike, to overtake his opponent and claim the win.

Meanwhile, the 61-year-old dentist remains on another pursuit. This one might not be as easy to catch.

“I see this every day. It motivates me,” Painter says of a poster-size color photograph in the basement/workout facility of his home, which also doubles as his Lahmeyer Road office. It's a straight-on picture of him on his bike. And in the left-hand corner, printed on a rectangle piece of paper, reads: Goal 50:30. “That's about 30 seconds faster than I've gone before, and I'm still trying to improve my time.”

His best result over a 40-meter race was an American record 50:59.19 in the 55-to-59 age category, which came at the nationals three years ago. That one's still on the books, as is the 51:54.47 he established in July in the 60-and-over national time trials.

In all, Painter has won four national championships and is the American record-holder in two age groups. Furthermore, he will be going to Albi, France, in late August to defend the world title he won last year in the 19.5-meter age group time trial. As the only United States representative at the 2016 event near Perth, Australia, Painter defeated 17 other competitors and was more than 17 seconds ahead of his closest rival.

“I guess I like to go fast,” he says with a smile. “And I like the competition.”

A 1974 graduate of Heritage High School, where he ran track and cross country and played a little basketball, Painter was the normal kid who grew up on a farm near Franke and Flat Rock roads. And like every kid, he had a bicycle.

“I got it at Mr. Wiggs,” he says of the long-defunct department store once on East Coliseum Boulevard. “It was a Huffy English 3-speed, and it sold for $33.”

It wasn't until he attended dental school at Indiana University when his passion for cycling took root. Because his roommate liked to cycle, Painter figured he'd join him, and also got a bike. Eventually that led to him getting into triathlons, a sport in which competitors run, swim and cycle. Painter said that even though his swimming put him far behind, he noticed he'd catch up and pass the pack in the cycling portion.

So he ditched the triathlons and concentrated on getting into bicycle races. After winning a race in Bourbon, Indiana, in 1986, Painter said, “I was kind of hooked.”

Although he took up the sport with a passion in his early 30s, his participation slowed considerably when he and his wife, Judy, started having a family. Five kids in all.

“After my last daughter was out of the house, and I hadn't cycled in eight years, some guy invited me out on a bike ride,” Painter says. “I still had my old bike downstairs. It was a titanium bike, at the time, and the tires actually had dry rot. I was lucky I didn't get a flat tire. But I went out for a ride, and I was like, 'Gosh, now I remember why I liked riding bikes. This is so fun.' So I started riding and got myself back into shape.”

He trained vigorously, got a coach, joined a team, started to compete again and steadily moved up the ladder in his age categories. In 2013, he went to his first world competition, where he finished 17th in a 30-kilometer race. In 2014, he rode in Slovenia, where he finished third, then was fifth in Denmark in 2015. Then came last year in Australia, where he stood at the top of the podium and listened to his national anthem. “Pretty neat,” he said.

On good days, he and his Fort Wayne Outfitters teammates can often be found on the old portion of U.S. 24 on nearly a three-hour ride that takes them to Antwerp, Ohio, and back. On bad days, or in the winter, Painter and his crew can be found in his basement.

“It's called 'the pain cave,' ” he says.

With an elaborate network of cable wires, fans and stationery bicycle stands that can accommodate him and seven others, Painter's pain cave is an indoor gym unto itself. He has medals hanging over a desk, trophies and riding jerseys on hangers. And to help him acclimate to high altitudes where he might ride, Painter even has a clear, plastic tent, complete with a reclining chair and a blanket, so he can sleep. 

And no, he says, there's no such thing as a family bike ride. His wife has her pace, and he has his. “Sometimes she'll ride the (River) Greenway and she rides real slow. We don't ride together very often.”

He gets out his race calendar that is on his desk downstairs and begins to thumb through it. Since last Sunday was Mother's Day, he didn't race. But on the agenda comes Texas, then Kokomo, then Georgia, then South Carolina. In late August comes Albi, France.

“I've never thought, 'Gosh, I got to go ride my bike,' ” Painter says with a pretend sigh. “I think, 'I get to ride my bike!' It helps me unwind from the dental office and clears my head. Plus, I get some exercise.”

stwarden@jg.net