Pro nationals give Brent and Jamie Bookwalter a rare chance to race together

The Bookwalters say sharing a profession helps make their personal lives run a little more smoothly

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (VN) — The Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships will break some new ground this holiday weekend. For the first time in the event’s 28-year history, the men’s and women’s events will be held at the same location, and the fields will be racing for equal prize money.

Meanwhile, for Brent and Jamie Bookwalter, who once lived in Chattanooga, the championships offer a rare opportunity for husband and wife to tackle an event together.

“The only other time we’ve raced together was at Roan Groan [in Johnson City, Tenn.],” said Jamie, who rides for Colavita Racing. “We did a crit together, but that’s the only other road race we’ve ever done together.”

After pausing briefly to reflect upon the accuracy of her statements, she added one additional clarification:

“We did collegiate mountain bike races together, but he was chasing after other girls then, so they don’t count.”

While familiar to one another as a result of their common collegiate racing circles, it was the matchmaking of Specialized-lululemon’s Ally Stacher — also racing in Chattanooga this weekend — that eventually brought the two together. After Brent broke a leg in 2007, Stacher prodded Jamie to reach out to him.

“Ally told me to e-mail Brent when he broke his leg. They went to college together,” Jamie said.

“So I sent this email to Brent saying I was really sorry about his broken leg. And then I didn’t hear anything back from him. And I thought, ‘Well, whatever.’ And then a week later I finally got an email back and it was like, ‘Oh, this guy is kind of cute.’

Jamie replied immediately, but again had to wait days for a response.

“It was a very clever little strategy he had there. He’d wait around to send me anything, but when he did it was really suave,” she said.

“Hey, don’t give away my secrets,” interjected Brent, who rides for BMC Racing and is a favorite in Saturday’s men’s time trial championship.

After college Brent rose into cycling’s professional ranks, while Jamie opted to complete a master’s degree at the University of Georgia before following suit. The couple says sharing a common passion has been a blessing.

“It’s worked out to be a really nice thing for us, because we’re both going through the same things,” said Brent.

He says their common occupation has helped to minimize potential relationship challenges associated with the sport’s unusual lifestyle, noting that the peloton’s often-taxing travel and training demands are “not without challenges.”

“I think generally professional cycling condones a pretty selfish lifestyle. Trying to balance that can be tricky,” he said. “So I’m thankful we have the opportunity to be racing bikes and doing it together.

“We have this chance to share in something really beautiful — and that’s just being out on the bike together.”

Jamie, who placed 23rd in the 2012 championship road race, agrees that the couple’s cycling bond promotes a special kind of understanding.

“Racing has helped me to realize the kind of stress he’s under in ways that maybe I wouldn’t otherwise,” she said.

“It’s hard to understand road racing unless you’ve been on a team and been a worker. You learn how stressful it is to be away from home. Team dynamics can be difficult. You find that cycling is a lot more when you win. So I think we understand one other better as a result.”

As for life’s other stresses, Jamie says she’s ready to share them, too.

“Maybe when he quits road racing he can go get a master’s degree and understand why I was stressed for so long,” she said.