Jake Sitler has always tried to prove a point when it comes to athletics.
He thinks his incessant drive to prove himself developed because of his scrawny stature growing up. Currently he stands 5-feet, 11-inches tall. But back in his high school days at York Catholic he topped out at around 5 feet and weighed less than 100 pounds.
"I always felt like I needed to prove myself," Sitler said recently of his teenage years.
So, with his legs, he pushed hard in races for the York Catholic cross country team and on long-distance runs for the track-and-field program. He made himself into a recruit for NCAA Division II Shippensburg. His not-to-be-outdone attitude carried into college, too. One day at Ship, while hanging out with some of his teammates around a pool, they decided to have a hold-your-breath contest.
"I drowned myself to win. Literally had to be taken to the hospital because some freshman swam two lengths of the pool and I was like 'he's not beating me,'" Sitler said. "I passed out and drowned halfway down."
Now 25 years old and two years removed from college, Sitler lives in Wrightsville at his parents' home. He works full-time at Barry's Country Food Market in Craley. The small grocery store is owned by the Sitler family and has been in operation for more than eight decades.
"In 1931 we were around the corner there," Sitler said while sitting on a bench outside the store on a warm-and-sunny Thursday afternoon, pointing across the parking lot. "1989, the day I was born, the store here opened. June 18, 1989. It was Father's Day, the new store opened and I was born."
Sitler himself is a fourth-generation worker at the market. He's not sure if he wants to eventually take over the store and follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great grandfather. He would have the smarts for it, too, having earned bachelor's and master's degrees in business from Shippensburg.
But this is where Sitler's pull to prove himself as an athlete comes back into play.
"I have looked at houses, but I'm the only one that's ..." Sitler said, before pausing to collect his thoughts. "My friends, they are teachers and they know what they're gonna do. Me, it's so unknown it's not worth it (buying a house)."
Cycling: His future is so unknown because he's striving to obtain a rather unusual full-time job. One that only a small number people around the country actually succeed in attaining. Sitler would like to get paid to ride a bike.
"It's one of those things where if you get the opportunity for a few years, you have to take it," he said. "Not a lot of people get the opportunity to."
To an extent, Sitler does receive some compensation to compete in cycling events. He's contracted to ride for New Jersey-based bike company Van Dessel, who provides his light-weight bikes that can be worth up to $6,000 or $7,000 apiece.
But the 136-pound cyclist, who rides 300 miles a week, is getting closer toward his goal of making this cycling thing a full-time gig.
He always had an interest in cycling since his childhood days, when he watched his dad compete in mountain-bike races. But he made it his only focus after leaving Ship, where a number of injuries disrupted his running career, a result of all the pounding the body takes when the feet smash against the ground.
Six months ago, Sitler finished 27th in the USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross National Championship Race in Colorado. Sitler has previously described cyclo-cross events like steeplechase on a bike.
Currently in the regular cycling season, Sitler has done well in a number of races so far this year. Then last month, competing against some of the top cyclists in the nation, he took fifth place in the Air Force Association Cycling Crystal Cup race in Virginia, two spots behind 2012 United States Olympic cyclist Bobby Lea.
That performance earned Sitler a spot on a team that will take part in the United States Cycling Professional Criterium National Championship race in North Carolina. The Sept. 6 event is the final professional race of the USA cycling season and includes the best cyclists from around the nation. It's easily the biggest cycling race Sitler has competed in to this point in his career. And depending on how he performs, it could be a launching pad for him to reach his dream — to prove to himself and others he's good enough to get paid to ride a bike for a living.
"Right now I run it (Barry's) with my dad. My grandfather is still in the store. And my grandmother helps as much as she can," Sitler said. "But I think everyone wants to see how far the biking thing can go."
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.