By design, Jimmie Will Richey’s work week ends just before the Hilly Vanilli begins. Jimmie leads the "D" group in this Zwift event on the Slowtwitch calendar and his ride leadership has become legendary, like an exuberant dancing intersection traffic cop.
Leading the Hilly Vanilli “Ds” “has become the highlight of my week,” he says and his leadership makes this ride the highlight of a lot of peoples' weeks.
“I have made sure my schedule allowed me to be off on Thursdays because I like this ride so much,” said Jimme, and it’s not an easy schedule. “Every Spring and Fall we refuel the nuclear power plant at which I work.” Jimmie’s worked at this plant for 30 years, and during the refueling of the plant Jimmie works 6 days a week, 12-hour daily shifts. It’s like this for up to 6 weeks every Spring.
“I am 58 years old and I work as a component engineer at a nuclear power plant, near the gulf of Mexico, south of Houston Texas. I have been an avid Zwifter for 2 and-a-half years and cannot get enough of it. I am married and the proud father of two great women who have grown up to find wonderful partners to spend their lives with. My greatest feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment in life is thinking I had something to do with the way these kids turned out. They make me happy every day.
You can divide the human race into the net givers and the net takers and over the course of one Thursday afternoon/evening you quickly find out that Jimmie is a giver.
This is one reason why this event, which offers has B, C, and D levels, is overwhelmingly populated by Ds. About sixty Ds came out last week and it’s largely because of Jimmie.
I was frankly surprised to find out Jimmie is 58 years old, because his leadership of the Ds, at least his version of leadership, often means dropping back to pull someone back up to the group. Jimmie rides a C-level effort to lead the D ride. Of course he’s a fit and trim athlete as you can see from a recent picture. But this is the recent Jimmie Will Richey. He’s half the man he used to be.
As Jimmy Buffet sang it, Jimmie Will Richey was the “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” His father was in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and Jimmie spent north of 8 years in the Navy. Because of the transitory nature of the military family life Jimmie changed schools a lot as a kid and did not cope well. “Early on I turned to food and books for companionship.”
“I weighed 310 lbs when I finished High School and at 5’9” tall that was quite a bit of fat.” Jimmie shed 100 pounds upon joining the Navy. He gained and lost that amount of weight twice during his Navy career. When he left active service he grew to his heaviest; by his “32nd birthday I weighed 350 lbs,” meaning there were two Jimmies inside of one skin.
He’s been at his current 175-pound weight for about a dozen years now. He learned to swim in his youth, and during his big weight loss season of 2007 took up cycling. “I was into road cycling when I got asked to help someone with a bike for a triathlon. I fell for the challenge. I loved riding, I knew I could swim again, but running was brand new to me.”
He moved from Olympic to the Ironman discipline. But in more recent years, “the shale oil and gas boom around my area ruined the local roads. Combined with distracted drivers those two factors led me to spend more and more time indoors. In 2017 I read about an online game called Zwift. I had a Powertap hub, a Kurt Kinetic fluid trainer and a computer so I thought, ‘Why not?’ Shortly thereafter I got a Cycleops Hammer which I still use.”
“I subscribe to the Slowtwitch newsletter email and a year or so ago you put out a call for leaders. I volunteered for the Hilly Vanilli D group not knowing what to expect. The only thing I knew at the time was it said, 2.0 – 2.5 watts-per-kilogram (a typical Zwift measure of work) and I knew I could do that and still communicate with the riders. The first ride I led there, it was just me but people started showing up and coming back after a while. We now have a great group of regulars. We are not as big as some groups but I tell you true, that ride makes my week.”
“Zwift has become my means of cycling. I have plans to ride outside again after this pandemic ends but for now my PC, Hammer and Zwift give me all the fun I need.”
What you see here are screenshots from my iPhone of Zwift’s Companion App. It’s the only way to get a transcript of the in-game messages during a ride. It is hard to message in-game when everyone is near his or her limit trying to keep up. The easiest way to illustrate the effect of Jimmie’s leadership was to just snap some screenshots of his messaging. The volume of Jimmie's in-game message help is remarkable.
For those interested in this ride, Jimmie’s D group leaves at 5 minutes before the hour, at 3:55pm Pacific, 6:55pm Eastern time. At the top of the hour the C group leaves, and 5 minutes after the hour it’s the B group. The ride for all groups ends at the same time, at the top of the next hour, so each group rides 65 minutes, 60 minutes, or 55 minutes respectively. The Bs try to catch the Cs, who try to catch the Ds (imagine those charts with a bigger fish poised to eat a smaller fish who’s poised to eat a smaller fish yet). Jimmie’s ardent effort at keeping the D group working together is not just for camaraderie and teamwork for teamwork’s sake, it’s to help the D group in its mission to keep from getting caught.
“A side effect of this ride is I have rubbed internet shoulders with the stars,” and a case in point is the occasional communication about this ride with Jordan Rapp. But on Thursday nights, for a lot of Zwifters, both Slowtwitchers and those who've never heard of Slowtwtich, Jimmie is the star.