Sheri Baldwin’s lifelong enthusiasm for cycling — which positioned her to make a powerful showing at the 2017 USA Cycling Masters Road Nationals in Augusta, Georgia — can be traced back 39 years to her attendance at Coast Union High School.
The librarian at Coast in the 1970s, Alan Wallace, was a competitive cyclist, and he encouraged Baldwin (Class of 1979) to take up the sport, which she did with great keenness.
However, little could Wallace or Baldwin have known all those years ago that she would continue to be highly competitive at age 55 in the cycling nationals. Or that she would earn a silver medal in the road race on June 2 (finishing in 2 hours, 19 minutes and 41 seconds); a bronze in the time trial event on June 1 (30:12.9); and another bronze in the criterium on June 4 (45:14).
Interviewed mid-June at Cambria’s Gym One, which is owned by Baldwin — who is a physical therapist and provides athletic training services to Coast Union — and her husband, Glenn Baldwin, Sheri reflected back on her initial love affair with cycling.
Baldwin said her passion for cycling during her teenage years was partly driven by her desire to “get away” from her Cambria family, which she described as “dysfunctional.” Running did not take her “far enough” away from her home life at that time, but cycling filled the bill perfectly, she explained.
After moving to Southern California, she attended Long Beach State University. But Baldwin did not enroll at LBSU for the major or for the school’s reputation.
Rather, the school was centrally located between Santa Barbara/Los Angeles, and San Diego, she explained. She was there “For bicycle racing — that was my motivation.”
She entered competitive races often, but faced a challenge well beyond her competition. She began to have occasional grand mal epileptic seizures while riding her bike.
“I’ve only had three seizures in my whole life, and they all happened when I was on my bicycle during racing. I was 17 when I had my first one.” The neurologist in San Luis Obispo at that time told her she needed to eat more food.
Her second seizure happened during a race in Santa Barbara.
“I came to, and I was in the ambulance.” This time that same neurologist suggested she wear sunglasses, “Whenever I was on the bike.”
Apparently the sunglasses remedy was not the answer because in that same Santa Barbara cycling race a year later, Baldwin had her third seizure. This time, when she regained consciousness in the emergency room, she was told she had broken her collarbone.
By this time, she had met Glenn, her future husband, who was also a cycling enthusiast. He helped her get additional medical care for her occasional bouts with epilepsy.
She was still in her late teens, and about to take part in a Criterium race — at Los Angeles City College — when other cyclists “Petitioned race officials to not let me start. I had never caused anyone else to crash (while having a seizure), but the rumor mill was out there …” and the other competitive riders feared she would have a seizure, crash and ruin the race for them.
I’ve only had three seizures in my whole life, and they all happened when I was on my bicycle during racing.
Sheri Baldwin, Cambria cyclist
“I was very competitive; I was winning races, or finishing second, or third.”
Hence, in addition to the specter of her possibly crashing, the “clique” of top riders in races appeared to be wary of her stealing their thunder, Baldwin explained.
“The referee comes up to me and says: ‘We’re not going to be able to let you race.’ I told him I had a doctor’s note that I was cleared to race.” Finally, officials agreed to let her race, but they said, “‘You can race, but you have to start a minute behind everybody.’”
“I was really ticked. And I was hurt. But I went to camp,” she recalled, with an expression that reflected a momentous personal and competitive victory. Starting a minute behind, she nonetheless caught the field. “I went right through them and I won the race. It was a highlight.”
Baldwin’s next big goal was to make the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She was on the U.S. National Cycling Team, training with the likes of Connie Carpenter (who won gold in the 1984 women’s road race) and Rebecca Twigg (the silver medal winner).
She didn’t make the Olympic team, but shortly thereafter she graduated from LBSU, got her master’s in physical therapy, and married Glenn. They moved back to Cambria in 1993, where she established herself as a professional, had two sons (Nathan and Nolan), and continued riding, mostly for exercise, until she dipped back into competitive cycling in 2016 and 2017.
“I have a pretty safe life. I live in Cambria. I have this established business. Everything is kind of planned. I’m not a rock climber; I’m a pretty cautious person. But competitive cycling is kind of a way of living on the edge.”
She and Glenn are both recreationally active with the Slabtown Rollers bicycle group, but what she needs on occasion, she says, is to be “pulled out of my comfort zone” by competing against some of the top U.S. women riders in the 55-59 age group.
She eschewed that comfort zone in June, earning her a silver medal and two bronze medals — no small feat for a physical therapist from the safety of small-town Cambria.
Country Coast Classic
One hundred and fifty riders paid to participate in the 17th annual Gene Cerise Memorial Country Coast Classic bike ride Saturday, June 24, in Cambia. Starting out at the Pinedorado grounds, riders had a choice of three distances: 25 miles; 45 miles; or 72 miles.
Preliminary results indicate that approximately $22,000 was raised for youth-related programs in Cambria and Cayucos, according to organizer Jim Rogers. Sheri Baldwin, who recently won three medals at the USA Cycling Masters in Georgia, rode with her husband, Glenn.