When she realized in 1997 that the U.S. Armed Forces Cycling team needed a full-time manager, Ponzio volunteered to do the job as an extra duty. She’s been the team’s director ever since.
How did you become the Armed Forces Cycling director?In the early and mid-90s, we hosted CISM (International Military Sports Council) races (in Europe). The U.S. Armed Forces team participated, but it became obvious that the team was either going to go away or become better organized. It’s not a sport you can just get the best athletes together just once a year. I took it over in 1997 to give the program the continuity and organize the logistical support it needed.
How did you get started as a cycling organizer?In the mid-80s, I was a fitness director at McGuire AFB (N.J.). Some guys came to me and asked me to set up some local races for them. The first bike race I ever saw, I was in charge of.
The U.S. Armed Forces team competes in races all over the world. Isn’t the job seriously time-consuming?I could easily say it is a second full-time job.
How do you oversee from your position in Europe a team whose riders are stationed in the U.S.?The biggest difficulty is all the traveling, but being in Europe lends itself to directing the team as a second job. Most of my contact with the team is after 7 o’clock at night, so I’ve finished my day work when I deal with the team and sponsors.
Your sponsors include some big names in cycling and fitness — Cervelo bicycles, Shimano, Verge Sport. Do you have to go cap in hand to these companies looking for backing?We have great sponsors. We’re riding Cervelo bicycles, probably the best bicycles in the world. We’re not allowed to solicit directly but the cycling world is small and we’re very visible. We’re known as being good ambassadors. We’re known to be drug-free. Sponsors notice and they contact us.
What sort of level has the U.S. Armed Forces team achieved?All our riders have to be Category I. That’s the highest level for “amateurs,” what cycling calls “riders without contracts” to a professional team. We don’t qualify to enter events such as the Tour de France, but we race in Category I events and the next level below the top pros, the “continental professional” category. One of our racers (seven men and one woman in 2008) has a continental pro contract, and all have full-time jobs in addition to their training and racing commitments.
What’s on the race schedule for this year?One of our biggest races this year is the Air Force Cycling Classic in Arlington (Va.) May 4. It’s a new international level race that’s going to become the military’s signature race. We’ll be doing CISM in Slovenia in October and train for a week before at Aviano.
(For more information about the U.S. Armed Forces cycling team, visit www.armedforcescycling.org. Ponzio is the Web master.)
Debra PonzioHometown: Niagara, Wis.
Title: “Audrey” in “Little Shop of Horrors”
Day job: Sports and fitness manager, U.S. Air Forces in Europe (based at Sembach Air Base, but will move to Ramstein Air Base).