Catching Up With Clay Parks
Clay Parks, aka the Pettifogger, is another two-wheeled veteran of the blacktop who was but a wee undergraduate at the University of Georgia when the WBL was first forming in the early 90s. Parks, along with a gang of upstarts who didn’t know they weren’t supposed to succeed, raced for the University of Georgia Cycling Team when it too was only a budding program, and they put U.G.A. Cycling on the map, where it has remained since. During his time in Athens, Parks rode in the early wild west years in the WBL, where his style was like that of a pit bull broke free from its chain, taking two classic wins along the way, and he came back often over the years as he continued his racing career after graduating. Along the way Parks joined forces with another cycling powerhouse, his wife, Iona Wynter Parks, an Olympian who competed on the road for her home country of Jamaica. Not to mention, Parks also managed to earn a law degree and the power couple now live in Decatur, Georgia where Parks operates his own law firm. We checked in with him recently to catch up:
Humble Chronicler: Where are you and Iona living these days – you’ve been a bit of a worldly traveler throughout your life, haven’t you?
Clay Parks: Iona and I now live in Decatur, Georgia and have been living here since 2016. Prior to Decatur we lived in East Atlanta before stints in Seattle, Washington and Oracabessa, Jamaica. As far as growing up, my father was a university professor, so my family lived all over the U.S. We lived in Morgantown, WV, Baton Rouge LA, Flagstaff, AZ, and Dahlonega, GA. I would say that Flagstaff and Dahlonega are the places that influenced me the most, for better or worse!
H.C.: How long have you and Iona been married? How did you meet?
Parks: Iona and I have been married for 15 years and we met after a good friend and former teammate, David Martin (RIP), introduced us. David was dating one of Iona's Autotrader teammates and after I moved back to Atlanta after law school, David invited me over to meet her. To give you some idea how that “meeting” went, our son gets a big kick out of the fact that Iona does not remember it at all, which, of course, I do. After asking her out over the course of a few years, fate intervened and placed me at the velodrome in Atlanta at the same time Iona was working out with her Olympic coach, so I asked her out again. My persistence prevailed and this time she said “yes.” 15 years later we are still happily married, and we have a 7-year-old son, Ethan.
H.C.: Has cycling remained a part of your lives?
Parks: Cycling was and is a huge part of our lives. After we married and before our son was born, Iona continued racing professionally and we traveled all over, not only the US, but the world, as Iona was racing a good bit in Europe. Iona retired in 2008 and I gave up the ghost in 2017, but we both still ride our bikes. I started working for myself in 2008 in Decatur and still ride 2-3 times per week with a longer ride or rides on the weekend. Iona also still rides, more so in the spring and into the summer. She works for a VIP tour group during the Tour de France each summer so she gets in shape for that event each spring before she spends a month or so at the race in France. When we take time off from real life, I still try and ride as much as I can handle. At some point, Ethan is going to realize that his mom is a much better athlete than I ever was—I think he already suspects it.
H.C.: Decatur has become a popular place for young families to live—how do you like it?
Parks: We moved to Decatur after our son was born because of the quality of the school system and it is a great place to live and raise a family. It is a very progressive community with folks from all over the world with a variety of life experiences. As far as cycling, Decatur, and Atlanta have a much better cycling scene than many other places I have lived in this country. In normal times when there is no pandemic, there are many large group rides for riders of all levels every week. When we lived in other places like Seattle, most of the rides were small and groups only rode with other members of their clubs or teams. While the amount of traffic on the roads is heavier compared to Athens-Clarke County and its surrounding roads, they are manageable and even particularly good if one knows where to ride. There are several safe in-town loops that are enjoyable and challenging and if I ride south-southeast of town there are rural roads and areas not dissimilar to the Athens area.
H.C.: Do you represent cyclists in your law practice?
Parks: I do represent cyclists in the Metro-Atlanta area when they are hit by motor vehicles, for both the personal injury and the property damage claims. There are a lot of minefields to navigate in any personal injury case and cycling cases carry their own inherent issues and being a cyclist and having the perspective of a cyclist gives me a huge advantage over the opposing party. My practice isn’t strictly limited to cycling cases, but I take cycling cases personal and I have a vested interest in the outcome. I have been hit twice and I have had friends, teammates, and competitors who have been killed and seriously injured, so this is a serious issue for me. The Humble Chronicler may have been the second influencer on my decision to attend law school. The first was a pair of magic bracelets I wore which were provided by a Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Deputy, but I digress, the Humble Chronicler suggested law school and it was good advice and so here I am.
H.C.: How did you start cycling?
Parks: I started riding in the summer of 1987 after seeing the movie American Flyers while I was at football camp of all paces. I was fascinated with the sport almost immediately and started riding after wrestling season my senior year of high school on an old 60cm Peugeot my father rode in the 1970s (I ride a 56cm fame). I did my first bike race (Gene Dixon's Dog Days series in Watkinsville) in the summer of 1989, finishing 5th in my second race as a Cat 4 and was hooked. I went to U.G.A. for college mainly because it had club cycling team at a time when most schools in the southeast did not. I was fortunate to move to Athens at a time when cycling was taking off because of Twilight and guys like Paul King and Steve Sevener, who were already accomplished pros, relocated to the Athens, which made local group rides national level training events. Some of our early WBL rides included pros from all over the world along with multiple Olympians and World Champions showing up throughout the winter season. Some of these early rides were harder than many races, and we treated them as such in the early days.
H.C.: What were some of the teams you rode for?
Parks: Athens Bandag before it was a UCI affiliated program, then on teams sponsored by a division of Motorola out of Atlanta, and though this was not the Motorola UCI team, we did have a comical interaction with the Kevin Livingston, Lance Armstrong and their team’s lawyers during Superweek in 1996 when we all showed up in our Motorola kits. We met the Motorola lawyer while on a training ride in Milwaukee and he knew so little about cycling he thought one of my teammates was Lance. We then had to go through late registration with Lance and Kevin, which was a little embarrassing, but not quite as embarrassing as things got later in the race series. In 1997 I went to law school and after graduating, I returned to Atlanta and joined David Martin on Atlanta Cycling. After 2 years, I next rode for PeopleSoft, Genesis, Kalahari, AG Edwards, Subaru, and finally Litetspeed/BMW. I am still close friends with many of my former teammates.
H.C.: What years did you ride the WBL and who were some of the othersmanage to make a ride or two in every year just so I can remind myself what a good beat-down feels like! But the WBL has never been just about the rides, there are "characters", both real and fictional, which have added to the special flavor of these rides. There are far too many to list in one fell swoop but a few of the more memorable include the aforementioned King and Sevener, David Martin, Steve "Stove" Richmond, Mitch Hainey, Robert “Roberto” Rivers, Al Jeffers, Bill Riecke, Gene Dixon, Robert "Conan" Cox, Doc Moye, Jeff Lee, Heidi Yakowski and Mark Heeb, Jonas Tenney, David Allen, Jon Atkins, Bill Oyster, Chris and Tina Pic, Larry "The Mineral Man" Waters and the Humble Chronicler. To relay what things were like back then, when David Allen first moved to Athens to join my local Motorola sponsored team, he was very serious about his training. David had been a scholarship athlete at the University of Alabama and when we told him we were going out, possibly drinking, after a 100 mile WBL ride on Saturday but before the next 100 mile WBL ride on Sunday (the following day), he nearly packed up and headed for home. But he didn’t, he hung in there, went out with us, may or may not have drank a cold beer, then completed the 100-mile ride with all of us the next day. He was now officially a Zealot, trained up in the ways of the WBL. There are many more names and many more stories, and I’ll be back for more of each.
(Winter Lockdown 2020)