Need for speed: Local teens pursue national spotlight
By: Sarah Wilson
Two wheels – cycling toward success
Motivation, talent and determination can travel a long way, especially when it comes to two Rockwood students who have gone the distance and who prove themselves every day on wheels as well as in the classroom. As seniors en route to graduation, the two are racing to the finish line of high school only to move on to bigger, better and faster challenges.
Eureka High School senior Jonathon Schilling, 17, learned how to ride a bike without training wheels before he turned 3.
“So I’ve always been on a bike as far as I can remember,” Schilling said. “To this day, it’s still ingrained in my lifestyle. I always wanted to race them, and I guess my competitive side showed through.”
An avid cyclist, Schilling is on the USA junior cycling team and has won three national championships.
He started out racing BMX bikes in St. Peters and later took to mountain biking in Castlewood State Park. Eventually, he made the transition to road cycling.
At the age of 12, he started racing with a junior team that consisted of competitors ages 12-18 and was divided into age groups.
“At first, I didn’t have any amazing results, but I loved it,” Schilling said.
The next year, he decided to go to his first national championships in Anaheim, Calif., and said he had “some promising results” with two top 10s.
He was at the bottom of his age group again at 15, but at 16 he returned to the national championship.
“This time, I had been training a lot and I was pretty well prepped. I ended up winning one and podiumed in all three events,” Schilling said. “That was the first big event that I really thought I could go really far with this sport. When I first started, I also was playing baseball and hockey, but I wasn’t really good at those, but I had all this success in cycling, so that’s why I decided to focus all my attention on that. I thought if I really wanted to I could probably go pro if I kept up everything. It all took off from there, really.”
Schilling currently rides six days a week as part of his training regime. He uses a cycle computer that tracks his speed, distance, the amount of elevation he gains and his heart rate. He also has a power meter that measures his power output.
He currently has four bikes that he switches off with, depending on where he is: a road bike that he rides most of the time, a mountain bike that he takes out on certain days, a time trial bike, and then a track bike, which he said is for specific event cycling.
He said his environment for success “is about as good as it gets,” with living close enough to be able to ride along trails and in parks.
“If I lived anywhere else in St. Louis, I wouldn’t get the training necessary for this level,” Schilling said.
Through his experiences with cycling, he has been able to travel to places like Belgium, Canada and Guatemala, in addition to cities all over the United States. Yet, he said he has a love-hate relationship with trying to juggle all his priorities.
“I love that I’ve gotten the opportunity to do things at my age that other kids might not even do in their lifetime,” Schilling said. “Cycling has brought me to so many awesome places and also has allowed me to form friendships across the nation and world, just because it’s a comprehensive and inclusive sport, unlike domestic sports like football or baseball.
“It’s hard to explain why I love it so much. It’s just really therapeutic being able to go for a ride and just clear your mind if you’re having troubles or problems. There is a lot of alone time to just kind of meditate and zone out to a certain degree but also just the overall feeling of being fit and healthy. That kind of lifestyle is really appealing to me.
“The rush of winning a race is probably the most amazing high that you could ever get.”
In addition to cycling and school, bikes also encompass Schilling during work at Big Shark Bicycle Company, where he assembles bikes as one his primary roles. Through a program called Cooperative Career Education, he is able to receive school credit while working.
“It’s been a great option for me because it’s a job that I’m passionate about and that allows me to work in a place that I love,” Schilling said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from my family and friends and my school, which has allowed me to travel and has given me every opportunity to catch up in the classroom.”
Schilling said many people have helped influence his achievements and goals, but the most important person would be his father.
“He has always been that North Star in my life and has always shown me the way to go without pushing anything on me,” Schilling said. “He’s always let me make the choice myself and put things in perspective for me while driving me to races all over the U.S.”
Once he turns 18, he is no longer considered a junior cycler.
“So that’s why I’ve decided to go as far as I can as a junior, and then next year, I’ll decide if the pro life is really going to be feasible as far as inner satisfaction and monetarily,” he said.
He said he is also applying to colleges across the country as his plan B.
“I’ve always had the dream to go pro, of course, and I’m leaning toward that, and maybe it won’t work out,” Schilling said. “But if I give everything I have and make the most of the opportunity, I won’t have any regrets of not giving it my all. I recently learned that rejection is always better than the feeling of regret.”
Four wheels – a race car driver’s life
Kevin Donahue, Lafayette High School senior and champion race car driver, has racing in his blood. The 18-year-old caught the racing bug when he was little.When Donahue was a child, his father started racing go karts in Pevely, Mo.
“And I was probably 11 when I saw him doing it, so I wanted to do it, too,” Donahue said.
He started racing down at a local track, and then, he said, “It just kind of grew from there.” After a few years of practice, he started touring and visiting local tracks across the country.
Today he races cars rather than karts.
On Dec. 1 Donahue will be in Pensacola, Fla., to race in the 45th annual Snowflake 100. The following day is the famed Snowball Derby that has been a racer tradition for 45 years running and draws some top name NASCAR drivers.
“This will be the most important race of my entire career so far,” Donahue said. “I have raced the Legends Nationals, Go Kart Nationals and Bandolero Nationals, but this will be bigger and more important than anything I have ever done before. This year, the week of racing will draw in well-known NASCAR drivers, such as Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Landon Cassill, along with thousands of fans.”
Donahue has vast experience for one so young. He has raced go carts, Bandolero cars, Legends cars, IMCA Southern Sport Modifieds, ASA Trucks, and Pro Late Models. And he has had triumphs, too.
In 2007, he was the Indianapolis Speedrome Bandolero champion and INEX Young Guns points winner in Missouri.
In 2011, he was the INEX Legends Semi Pro point’s winner in Missouri and finished 12th out of 388 nationally ranked drivers.
This year, he has raced a Pro Late Model at tracks in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
“I like the thrill of it,” Donahue said. “I like the feeling you get when you go out on the track or racing side by side with people, but I also just like the overall challenge that it presents to you when you’re trying to win.”
One of the keys to his achievements, he said, is being able to keep a “cool head” on the track.
“And I guess I can stay calm and kind of figure out what the other driver is doing in front of me and exploit his weaknesses,” Donahue said.
He said he does not get frustrated like a lot of drivers do.
“I don’t let my emotions determine how I race, and I’m not really scared of the car like some people are,” he said. “I’m just comfortable and relaxed and I can just drive naturally without having to think of any distractions.”
However, being involved in racing is practically a full-time job. Donahue said he has little time for much else.
“It’s rough because I miss a lot of school days, more than most people do,” Donahue said. “But I do my best to keep my grades up, and I think I do pretty well, but it takes a lot of my free time out and just time to hang out with my friends. I don’t really have as much as I used to just because I’m either out of state or trying to make up for the days I lost. But I do the best I can.”
Like Schilling, Donahue credited his father for his success.
“He has really inspired me and given me a lot of good advice,” Donahue said.
In regard to the future, Donahue said he would like to get into NASCAR in the next few years.
“That’s just a matter of keeping moving and getting sponsors,” Donahue said.
After graduation, Donahue will continue racing.
“It has been my dream my entire life, and I have not shown a whole lot of interest in other careers,” Donahue said. “Nonetheless, I do plan to attend college and earn a degree in marketing or business.”
The plan is for Donahue to begin a touring series in 2013 as soon as he graduates high school. He also looks forward to competing in the ARCA or K&N series.
“I want to be good in NASCAR. I don’t want to be kind of just average,” Donahue said.
“I’m kind of cautiously optimistic in racing because I know that a lot of opportunities, if they sound too good to be true, they usually are. But I still try to keep my head up, and no matter what it is, I try to look at the bright side.”
Editor’s note: Warren Mayes also contributed to this story.