Former Virginia wrestler Foley explored America and election year on bike

Jason BryantContributor INovember 7, 2008

The inspiration was quite American: a few cold beers, a Fourth of July and a birthday all jumbled into one. The planning was simple enough, but putting the plan into practice and following through was something’s Tim Foley might have underestimated.

Foley, a 2004 NCAA All-American at the University of Virginia and current student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, stepped away from coaching at Columbia to pursue an idea he concocted hastily on July 4.

With a focus on journalism, Foley wanted to find out what issues and thoughts voters were concerned about heading into November’s hotly-contested election.

“I wanted to go out and start writing and I had the time,” said Foley. “The maturation of thought goes … it just keeps piling up on you. I thought it would be a good idea. I figured during the election it would be a good idea to get out there and do something that Fox News and CNN only fain to do. They only want to sell sensationalism.”

Foley wanted to find out what voters really are thinking.

Instead of walking around New York City or cold calling people around the country, Foley decided trek across the eastern United States on a bike, starting in NYC and finishing in New Orleans.

“People are sick of all politicians doing is fighting,” explained Foley. “I wanted to make it mean something else and get the public’s viewpoint. In an economic crisis like this, idealistically, I wanted to showcase their thoughts.”

Foley’s method of transportation on a bike, was, as he put it, environmentally friendly in a world where gas has been expensive.

“I also like cycling,” he said.          

From a cloudy idea to a formulated plan, Foley launched, a web site documenting his trip and profiling 50 voters in 50 days. Geographically, it will take have taken him through 13 states and the nation’s capital.

The first day, a 65-mile trip from New York City to Lambertville, N.J., Foley might have thought he bit off more than he could chew. Riding with former college teammate Conor Manley for the day, Foley recalled mid-90’s heat and literally, the pain in his rear.

“When I woke up in New Jersey, I was poorly prepared,” said Foley. “I’m cycling and have to do route finding and be on roads in which I don’t get me killed.”

His biggest hurdle, other than dodging a punchy motorist in Cleveland, Tenn., was crossing of the Great Smoky Mountains.

“That may have been harder than wrestling,” said Foley. “It’s 35 miles from flat land to flat land. It’s an 18-mile climb and 18-mile descent. The last four miles (of the incline) are just brutal.”

With such a late start, Foley had to scramble to find generous souls to throw some funds his way or offer a roof over his head for a night, sometimes two.

“I’ve paid for a lot of the trip myself,” said Foley, who has put nearly $6,000 into the trip when you factor in lodging, gear, equipment and parts. But he estimates 75 percent of his donations and contributions, either financial or through food and lodging, have been involved in some way with wrestling.

“There’s no way I could have made this financially viable without the support of the Virginia wrestling community,” said Foley, referring to his alma mater.

“(The trip) would have been so much easier had I thought of this in March, but I wasn’t going to turn away from an idea like this,” he said. “I knew once I got on the road, I could execute this idea. I knew I had the time and the energy to put forward a great final product.

Between wrestling at Virginia and coaching at Columbia, Foley interned with former Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, a staunch wrestling supporter, and the Mel Martinez for Senate campaign.

It was Foley’s tie to wrestling that opened the door to this opportunity and idea.

“I got involved in politics because I went and worked for Denny Hastert,” explained Foley. “The reason I could work for Denny is because I was a college wrestler. That was the very first step.”

Foley bails on any labels placed on him by noting on the web site he “loves politics, democracy and America, not party doctrines or ideologies.”

His entire premise behind has been viewed through non-partisan eyes.

“I was so disenchanted with partisan politics,” said Foley. “I don’t like being involved in the inner-workings of partisan politics. Am I objective? Yes. Unbiased? Maybe not, but no one’s really unbiased.”

Among the interviews Foley has conducted, subjects range from college students, World War II veterans, widows of Vietnam vets, filmmakers and pharmaceutical reps to car salesmen, native Americans, young people, not-so-young people, men, women, mothers, daughters, fathers, uncles.

“Is it about race, religion?” asked Foley. “What are the motivations behind these voters?”

When catching up with Foley, he was roughly 1,100 miles away from his starting point; eating at Fatz Diner in Jasper, Ga. He patiently waited for the waitress to take his order and he passed on the fried okra, a Southern specialty.

“I don’t eat any fried foods and I eat like a heavyweight should eat since I’m burning 4,000-6,000 calories a day,” he said, losing 11 pounds along the way.

With the trip set to conclude prior to Election Day, Foley did discover one important virtue along the way.

“I’ve learned to be patient,” said Foley. “I used to get up and be stressed from the moment I woke up. At about day three, I realized you can’t worry about it.

“I’m only averaging 15 miles an hour,” he said. “Going up a mountain … you can’t take it all at once.

“I never had a chance to take everything in and understand the motivations of people. It’s been a great learning experience in how to be patient — not lazy, but patient.”

Published in Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine.