Inside most of us, an intangible token exists — the memory of a common and defining experience. Brakes released; now in motion, momentum overtaking, a bike gaining speed. This recollection brings forth the vague sequence of fear, exhilaration and finally, elation. 

Over the crest and down the slope of that first big hill, the wind in our teeth, it was not only a test of skill but of bravery. The reward: an often-forgotten privilege, one Dean Swick understands intimately, freedom. 

Dean was four when he learned to bike around his Arkansas country home. In 1983, he joined the Army and was deployed to Grenada, West Indies, in 1984. In the years that followed, he would see several more deployments, including Iraq in 2005-2006 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and to Qatar and throughout the Middle East in support of The United States Central Command as an operations officer until his retirement in 2018 as a Colonel in the US Army.

He credits his introduction to “endurance sports” to the physical training required for the military. He has made maintaining his physical training habits a way of life and has become a lifelong runner, triathlete, and cyclist.

Dean has participated in dozens of races, including the Chicago and Little Rock full marathons, St. Jude half, and numerous 25ks, 10ks, 5ks, and trail runs. His triathlons include Mighty Mite, second place in his division; Memphis in May; Dragon Fly, where he placed first in his division; and the Xterra Off-Road, where he placed second. 

His prolific success was redirected after tearing his rotator cuff during a CrossFit (Hit and Run) workout in 2021. His momentum in swimming was broken, and his triathlon participation dwindled. He filled his time instead with his original true love: mountain and gravel bike racing. His most recent race was the Rule of 3 in Bentonville, AR, where he took tenth in his division and whose participants included Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie.

Of the dozens of races, he cherishes his participation in the Leadville 100 MTB in 2023 in Leadville, CO, one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world. Only fifty percent finish, and although he missed the cut at mile 65, Dean is proud of his eight-month dedication to training. “It was the only bike ride I had ever trained for.” He acknowledges Build Peak Compete House of Pain in Memphis and the support of his girlfriend, Janine, for accomplishing this milestone.

Next, Dean will compete in Little Sugar MTB and Big Sugar Gravel in Bentonville, AR.

Off the bike, Dean is an avid mountain climber. To date, he has summited Mt. Whitney at 14,500 ft, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Pikes Peak, Mt. Humphrey in Arizona, and Mont Blanc du Tacul at 15,000 feet in the French Alps.

He applies his ambition to another passion as well: woodworking. Dean and Janine travel around Memphis and to regional craft fairs with their custom epoxy resin charcuterie boards, coasters, and furniture.

We can all identify with that familiar sense of pride after coasting our first “big hill.” This July, just as this shared childhood memory diminishes our differences, so too may the celebration of our freedom and honoring of those who have given their lives for its preservation.

Col’s Crafts: