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Cycling: From Beowulf to Bordeaux for a worthy cause

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

It seems like a perfect fit for someone completing a doctorate in Anglo-Saxon literature. A chance to help resurrect a “lost classic.”

In this case, it’s a classic cycling event. It isn’t ancient to a medievalist, only missing for 25 years, but time is still a factor. It’s a 24-hour race from Bordeaux to Paris that was considered one of cycling’s toughest one-day endurance tests.

How Kati Jagger, who grew up at Pawleys Island and graduated from Waccamaw High, comes to be training in England for the race across France is also part of a lengthy journey. “I’ve been on this journey of academia, but along the way I’ve always had jobs,” she said by phone from London.

Jagger graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in English. She went on to earn a master’s degree from University College London and stayed on to complete a doctorate. Her initial plan was to teach at the university level. Plans change.

“I’m looking at the evolution of learning from the very beginning of pre-literate England,” Jagger explained. “Gradually things began to be written down. People in power began to recognize that learning and writing were what would be an important part of their legacy.”

Kings began to endow schools, marking the start of the university system and state-sponsored education.

“I love it, but it’s time for me to finish,” Jagger said.

Rather than teaching, she is now looking at a career in marketing. That journey began with a part-time job at Litchfield Books. When she arrived in London, she used that experience to get a job with Foyles, one of the city’s premiere bookshops. Jagger worked in the café.

Jagger’s experience with the Moveable Feast authors series got her a job coordinating authors events for Foyles. “I learned to really love marketing,” she said.

Her mother died suddenly soon after Jagger started her postgraduate studies. “I used exercise as a form of therapy,” she said. She started training for triathlons: swimming, running and cycling.

Cycling and marketing met up with an internship at Rapha, an upscale designer of cycling clothes and accessories. “I refused to leave, so they just gave me a job,” Jagger said.

She is now the part-time UK press officer and hopes to become the full-time press officer after she submits her doctoral thesis this fall. “They’re hugely supportive of what I do,” Jagger said. “I’ve gotten to use my academic skills in a new way.”

For an aspirational brand, there’s nothing quite like having a Ph.D. in Anglo-Saxon literature write your copy. “We use history a lot,” Jagger said. “All of the branding has something behind it. It’s not just empty marketing.”

Which brings her journey to the Bordeaux-Paris 2013 Challenge. The race was first held in 1891. The first winner, an Englishman, set the tone for future events by covering the 600 kilometers in just over 26 hours.

Rapha is the sponsor of this year’s challenge, the first held since 1988. It will be a relay, with four-member teams covering seven stages in 24 hours. Two members have to be on the road at all times. All four riders must take part in the first and last stages.

“I wasn’t going to ride even though I helped put the event together,” Jagger said.

That changed after she visited the TreeHouse School that’s run by a nonprofit called Ambitious about Autism. Rapha’s CEO, Simon Mottram, has a son with autism. Jagger has a cousin with autism. “I’ve seen the struggles they’ve been through as a family,” she said.

The race is a benefit for Ambitious about Autism and each team member must raise £2,500, about $4,000. Jagger hopes to draw donors from both sides of the Atlantic.

The fundraising and the ride are both ambitious. As she works to complete the former by July 5, she is training for the latter, which starts Sept. 13.

She and her teammates will do a couple of overnight rides from London to the seacoast town of Brighton. “Part of the challenge is being tired,” Jagger said. “I’ve never tried riding overnight.”

Of course, Rapha has a reflective jersey for just such rides, tested on another distance race through France in 2011. The company also provides its team with top-of-the -line bikes. “It’s pretty much one of the most expensive bikes available,” she said. “It’s a huge company perk.”

Yet Jagger and her colleagues will still be the ones pedaling overnight through the French countryside. If they don’t stay on pace with the 24 hour limit, they will be pulled from the competition. “Just to finish is our goal,” Jagger said.

That and raising money for Ambitious about Autism. “It is a really great cause,” she said. “I thought, this is amazing. I really have to do this.”

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To learn more about the Bordeaux-Paris 2013 Challenge, go online to rapha.cc. To make a donation, contact Jagger at kati.jagger@gmail.com.

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