Faculty & Staff Profiles
If someone wrote a book about Jerry Davis’ life, it would be titled The Difficult Road Traveled Yields the Greatest Reward. That’s what Davis told the director of UNC’s athletic training program, who posed that question when Davis, at age 47, was interviewing for admission.
Davis was admitted to the athletic training program and in 2007, not long after he graduated from UNC, he was hired as Durham Academy’s athletic trainer. It’s the last in a long line of careers for Davis, who was a cryptographic technician on a submarine, worked in electronics in his native Silicon Valley, got into the fitness industry, found his way into mountain bike racing and traveled the world coaching cyclists, including world champion and Olympic silver medalist Thomas Frischknecht.
“I’ve had a lot of challenges in my life. I had to fend for myself, and it turned into a great thing. I’ve found my place. I wish I’d found it when I was 20 or 25, but then I might be a burned out, old grumpy athletic trainer like I see in some of my peers. I just get things done. I don’t have the greatest luck. I have to persevere through skill and knowledge.”
Davis’ life had been far from typical. He was “invited to leave home at age 18,” and he joined the Navy because he didn’t have money for school. He’s battled cancer. A tumor that extended nearly the length of his spine was discovered by his wife when they were newly married. The malignant tumor was surgically removed, leaving an incision that required 22 staples. Davis rehabbed himself without a day of physical therapy.
Four months post-surgery, he rode his moutain bike from his home in Santa Cruz to his in-laws’ home in Orange County, a five-day, 400-mile trip along California’s scenic Highway 1. “It was proof that I’m back and I’m good.” The ride became his winter training ritual to get ready to race each spring.
Davis has had a long-standing love affair with two-wheeled things.
“As a child, my father never gave me a bicycle. He just bought parts from the junkyard and said if you want a bike, here they are. I would just build them, wrench on them, go figure it out. That turned into a love of cycling.”
Motorcycles are part of the love affair. Davis began riding when he was 10, and when he turned 18, he was old enough to buy his own motorcycle. “I didn’t have a first car, I had a first motorcycle.”
And he has had a longtime love of speed.
“I love the sensation of movement. I can drive all day, I can ride a motorcycle all day. There’s something about that. My father took me to races when I was young. It got in my blood being a kid in the ’60s and all the hot rods in California.”
Davis’ experience with cancer marked the turning point toward a career in bicycle racing. “I figured I wasn’t going to sit around and relate to computers and machines any more, I was going to relate to people.”
The seed was planted while Davis was rehabing from surgery, when a friend invited him to come to San Francisco for the start of a stage race (like the Tour de France) that went from California to Colorado. The friend worked for a company that sponsored the biggest American racing team, and Davis found himself in the passenger seat of the team car, handing water bottles out to the leader of the race. “That’s when I got my proverbial bolt of lighting. It kind of hit me, this is what I need to be doing.”
He decided to pursue a degree in fitness, but dropped out of school when he was offered a job with a large health club. Davis kept cycling, started his own racing team and caught the eye of bicycle frame builder Tom Ritchey, who offered him a job as head manager for Ritchey Design’s World Cup Mountain Bike Team. “All of a sudden I’m flying to Europe to take care of these guys getting paid $800,000 to race mountain bikes.”
Davis’ wife, Regina, was an executive with Underwriters Laboratories, and he was a stay-at-home dad for daughters Mikaela and Brianna. “If I had a race at Big Bear or Mammoth Mountain [California], I’d put the girls in my pickup truck. … If I had to fly to Europe, that was something different. But if it was a U.S. race, I tried to take the kids with me. My kids got to be raised by a dad that was really involved and they got to see a lot of stuff.”
Davis grew up camping for two weeks each summer with his family at Lake Tahoe. “It made me appreciate having that family time away from real life.” Davis, his wife and daughters have camped in the Sierra Nevadas and have driven California’s Rubicon Trail, an 18-mile trail so rocky that it takes three days to cover it by car.
The family moved to North Carolina in 2001, when Underwriters Lab transferred Davis’ wife to the Research Triangle Park. It had been bugging Davis that he had dropped out of school, and with his wife’s encouragement, he decided to go back to school. “I had never completed my degree. I had started college several times, but before I got here [to North Carolina], my major was ‘registration.’ ”
He entered Wake Technical Community College at age 45. After successfully completing Wake’s two-year program, he earned a spot in UNC’s athletic training program. That meant taking prerequisites like anatomy and biology, and then completing five semesters of clinical work. The program required a minimum of 200 clinical hours a semester, but Davis racked up nearly 800 hours when he did a clinical with the UNC football team.
“I looked at it like it was a fantastic opportunity for me to re-educate myself and reinvigorate my career. And it did exactly that for me. It took five years total.”
Davis thought athletic training would be the missing piece to his career as a cycling coach. “I felt like I could get the most out of athletes performance-wise. I was a techno geek, I used heart rate monitors and power monitors or watt meters to measure athletes’ power and what it was supposed to be. But when they got hurt, I never had that resource.”
Instead, he “fell in love with athletic training,” and worked in athletic training at Campbell University before coming to DA.
Davis likes working at DA because he is “fixing kids, making kids feel better. They are at their most vulnerable when they are injured. … My goal is to reassure them they are going to be fine. I give them an injury path, a rehab path to get them healthy. I watch them go back and play and do well.”
He commutes from Cary on his BMW GSA motorcycle most days, and he’s still addicted to the open road. He’s riding to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, this weekend for a camping trip and March Moto Madness, an off-road, on-road event.
This summer he hopes to ride to Alaska, a 30-day, 10,000-mile roundtrip that will take him 450 miles on the most northern navigable road in North America to Deadhorse on Prudhoe Bay. The plan calls for Davis’ wife to fly to Fairbanks, and she’ll ride on the back of his motorcycle to Denali Park and through the Kenai Peninsula. She’ll fly home from Portland, Oregon, and Davis will ride his motorcycle back to North Carolina.
“I’ll do 400 to 500 miles a day through the U.S. I’m sure there’s something wrong with me. I like it. I’m like a dog that has to have his head out the window. I don’t get tired from that.”
Davis grew up watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports, yearning to do “as many kind of silly things as I can.” He’s run two marathons, competed in 10 triathlons, done between 30 and 50 10K races and numerous cycle races. He’s been to Australia twice with the mountain bike team, as well as all over Europe, the U.S. and Canada.
So what’s the scariest thing he’s ever done? “That would be scuba diving off Santa Cruz.” There was a dead whale off the coast and a buddy talked him into going out because “that’s where the best fish are. The water was so murky we couldn’t see [what was coming]. A shark swam by us. I’ve never been so scared.”
And then there was the time he competed in a bike race from the top of Mammoth Mountain. “I raced that on a bike with front suspension but no suspension on the rear. I got up to 63 miles per hour and had to do a turn. That was definitely one of those moments I will not forget about. The road is like being on a cliff.”
He’s still up for adventure, and his bucket list includes riding his motorcycle across Australia.
“Most of my friends’ wives hate me. I’m that guy.”