Story by Vicky Sama, JAM Fund Media Coordinator
Above photo from 2015 Grand Fundo by Meg McMahon
Brad Huff stacks cement block after cement block to build a makeshift outdoor grill on the hillside of Black Birch Vineyards in Southampton, Massachusetts. His sun drenched farm boy muscles bulge from his cutoff t-shirt. He wears a bandana around his neck to wipe the sweat from his forehead before lifting a dozen more cinderblocks. It's not the kind of summer afternoon expected of a pro cyclist in the midst of race season.
"We put a 400-pound piece of metal on top," Huff says. "It's a lot of heavy lifting."
Huff is setting up for the JAM Fund's biggest fundraiser, the Grand Fundo, an event that includes an epic bike ride through the Pioneer Valley followed by a giant pig roast and barbecue. He's volunteered at every one since the first in 2010.
"When something needs to be done, he doesn't ask me questions he just does it," says four-time Cyclocross National Champion and JAM Fund co-founder Jeremy Powers. "He marks the course, carries things, does day to day stuff that makes things happen."
Powers and JAM Fund co-founders Mukunda Feldman and Alec Donahue agree that Huff is more than a brick slayer for the Fundo. He's the Silent B in JAM. (Think lamb.)
"For Jeremy, the B stands for accountability. For JAM, it stands for Brad," Huff says. "I’m like the big brother who likes to impose his knowledge on the guys."
"From counting steaks to doing laundry, he's full gas all week, often at the expense of his legs and training," Feldman says. "He goes above and beyond to support the kids and the people who turn out to raise money for the Fundo."
"Mukunda and I built the grill for a couple years now," Huff says. "Usually it's Mukunda and I build it while Jeremy acts like he's helping. Every year it's got better and better and we get the Fund kids to help out so Mukunda isn't working himself to the bone, like he always does."
In the week leading up to the Fundo, it's all hands on deck. Huff takes on chores as if he was back at home in Springfield, Missouri.
"I grew up on a small farm and we raised Holstein heifers," Huff said. "I'd brush hog, milk a cow by hand, bring in feed and do what had to be done, and that really helped create the work ethic that I carry into my athletic career."
The day before the Fundo, Huff, Powers and a few of the younger riders in the JAM clan made a reconnaissance ride of the course and marked it with spray paint and arrows. The small posse of cyclists with stakes and spray cans raised the eyebrows of one of the hill town residents when they stopped at his driveway to fix a flat. But Huff's midwest charm was irresistible.
"This guy comes out of the house and yells to us, 'What are you doing out there?'" Powers says. "And Huff said back to him, 'Well, we’re changing a tire and marking the road for our charity event tomorrow. What are you doing there with those bales you got rolling on that machine? The wire you're using is too light to tie 'em up.' And the guy in the driveway realizes we got a farmer in the group, and he yells back, 'If you want to take off your sissy pants and help me...' and they had a conversation in farmer talk. And ever since that day that guy waves to us."
On the day of the Fundo, Huff is out on course riding with the slower cyclists and bringing up the rear to make sure everyone reaches the finish at the vineyard.
"Brad literally does laps of riding, pushing somebody up Kings Highway and turning back and going to the bottom and pushing someone else up and doing that all day," Feldman says. "He’s the last to get back from the ride despite being one of the fastest guys out there. And every year there is a story from some recreational rider carrying a few extra pounds who says, 'All of a sudden I found an extra hand pushing my back and he pushed me for ten miles, and oh my God, he went to get someone else.' He’s amazing."
Welcome to Hazzard County
About 400 cyclists rode the Fundo last July. Huff was easy to pick out from the crowd in his former Optum team jersey and bright orange helmet, bandana and socks. While he's setting up though, he looks like something out of The Dukes of Hazzard.
"Every single time he shows up to the Fundo with the Daisy Dukes, you know, those short shorts," Powers giggles. "Sometimes they’re pinstripes or cutoff jeans up to his crotch. I’ve never seen Huff at a Fundo without them."
Outdoing himself, Huff is now sporting the All-American look in stars 'n stripes lycra tights with his new team Rally Cycling. And his season is off to a good start. He won the stage one circuit race at the Chico Stage Race in Redding, California in February, and put his teammate on the top of the podium in the overall classification. He's still going strong entering his 38th year. But no matter where Huff is in his road or track racing schedule, he always makes time for JAM Fund.
Big Brother Brad
In 2012, Huff helped Stephen Hyde, then racing for JAM Fund and now representing Cannondale/Cyclocrossworld, from debilitating knee pain. Hyde was in the middle of cross season and suffering from patellar tendinitis, although at the time, no one could figure out what was wrong. Huff used his own frequent flyer miles to fly Hyde to Missouri, got him a free place to stay and brought him to his physical training specialists Jim Raynor and Karen Rakowski at Mercy Hospital.
"He said he had an injury and couldn't figure it out," Huff says. "I talked to Al and Jeremy and said if I could get him to Springfield, I think we can help him."
Huff then called Hyde at home in Easthampton, and by the time they hung up, Hyde had a ticket to Missouri.
"I couldn't bend my knee. I couldn't pedal. I could hardly walk. Brad had been through almost the exact same situation before, and these are the specialists that put him back together and saved his career," Hyde says. "After six weeks of trying everything, it took only one day at Mercy with the doctors to get movement and momentum to move forward. At last progress! I was moved to tears as I left the building without pain."
And then Huff drove Hyde to The Bike Surgeon in Shiloh, Illinois.
"Chris Norrington worked on his fit, his pedals, his cleats and got him dialed," Huff says. "Within a week, Hyde went from not being able to ride and think clearly as an athlete, to boom, a whole new world! And within a year he turned pro on the road and his performances outweighed anything he thought possible during his injury period. That was one of my feel-good moments; to help a rider on the JAM Fund. That solidified my commitment to JAM and everyone knew I meant serious business to helping JAM, not just with the Fundo, but with more than that."
"He cashed in a lot of favors and did a fair amount of coffee making to make it happen for me-- a guy he hardly knew," Hyde says. "He spent time away from his life to help a friend of a friend because he has such a large amount of compassion for people. I am forever grateful and proud to call Huff a friend."
Now in his eleventh year as a pro cyclist, Huff has been a mentor not only to Hyde but to other JAM Fund graduates such as Jeremy Durrin (Neon Velo) and Anthony Clark (Squid), all now on a pro cycling career path of their own.
"When we go to races, it’s Missouri tough love," Powers says. "When Durrin and Clark were at team camp or a crit in the middle of the country, Huff would tell them what they should and shouldn’t be doing. It’s mentorship. The Silent B is from consistent participation in JAM. He’s reached out to the riders and helped them. He’s personally taken time to make those relationships happen. And that’s always valuable about Huff. He’ll send them text messages. Like before Nationals he sent a message to Hyde and myself and said go as hard as you can, and you’ll still be friends. He's able to call out the elephant in the room and say go out there and give it 110%."
"We're a functional family, we support each other" Huff says. "I wouldn't have my life any other way than to be a part of the JAM Fund."
Beginnings of the Bromance
Huff's connection to JAM blossomed out of his bromance with Powers. The two became good friends more than a decade ago while teammates for Jelly Belly Cycling. Powers remembers it wasn't necessarily love at first sight.
"The first time I met Brad was at Crit Nationals in 2006," Powers says. "He was on Slipstream, and I remember he rolled up and he had a mullet. He was loud and a bit obnoxious. He reminded me of Slayer and he had an aura. Everyone would say, 'Oh that’s Brad Huff, he’s just crazy, he’s like Young Blood.' Everyone was talking about how wild and fearless this guy was. I didn’t talk to him that day. But when I became teammates with him I found out he was extremely friendly. But I remember I had a feeling about Brad, that he was crazy, like he must go to sleep listening to Metallica. That’s my first impression of the Huffster."
Powers has numerous stories of their days on the road, particularly one about a steep road race in the Tibetan Highlands of China.
"We’re both suffering through this race," Powers says. "I was looking at Huff and he was looking at me and our faces were bright red because it was so hard, and he said, 'I’m going to die.' And I said, 'No, I’m going to die.' And he said, 'No, I’m going to die.' We won a lot of races together but we also suffered a lot together. He would say get your head out of your ass, you can do this. And we built a bond through helping each other out. We’ll be friends forever. He’ll be the friend that hangs out with me on the porch when I’m 60."
"We have a mutual respect for each other," Huff says. "And I support him, like when I showed up half naked at the 2008 Cross Nationals in a Daisy Duke outfit and rainbow wig in freezing cold weather. And at Kansas City National Championships, I was there to support him. We’ll pretty much do anything for each other. I drove with two friends down to World Championships in Louisville and got to go behind the scenes and give him a big hug before the race started. Every fan dreams of going up to Jeremy at a cross race and giving him a hug, but I actually do that. It’s a pretty neat, having your best friend be the top ten in the world in his discipline. It makes you become better too and want more for yourself."
The Chicken Thing
Huff wants the best for everyone, and he's a perfectionist. Having graduated with a dietetics degree from Missouri State University, he considers himself an expert on food safety and claims he saved everyone from food poisoning at the first Fundo.
"I was the critical control guy for food in the danger zone," Huff says. "They had chicken out everywhere, and I have a picture I can text you where I cleaned out the refrigerator and put the chicken in there."
"That was not true. Fully false. No one is in danger of getting sick at the Fundo," Feldman says. "Brad and I have an ongoing battle over adequate refrigeration ever since the first year when we were tying to fit everything in my refrigerator the night before. So that’s an ongoing battle... the battle about ice and temperatures that Brad and I have every year, which is a lot of fun."
For the record, the chicken has since been stored in an industrial refrigerator at Feldman's Tart Baking Company in Northampton.
This year, the Grand Fundo is July 16. Huff hopes to be there for the seventh year in a row.
"Every year, it's up in the air, but so far, I'm the only person besides Jeremy, Al and Mukunda and their significant others who have been at the Fundo every year," Huff says.
"He’s such a staple that I can’t imagine if he can’t come," Powers says. "We’re not even talking about it."
Photos of the 2014 Grand Fundo by Meg McMahon.