The wonder of Weinberg

Andy Weinberg started his trek to Vermont from Illinois by pedaling on two wheels.

That’s right, the Castleton University professor rode his bike from his home in Illinois through five state borders to Middlebury College, with 10 days to make it for to his job interview.

Vermont peaked Weinberg’s interest when he went to visit his friend Mike, whom he had met at a triathlon in Virginia. When he went back to Illinois after his first visit, he asked his wife a complex, yet simple question.

“Why are we living in Illinois?” he asked.

He had a former friend who lived just north of Killington he had met a couple of times through endurance events, and an idea had sparked. If Weinberg moved to Vermont, they could start their own racing company together. Weinberg set out to find a teaching position in the Green Mountain State and landed an interview coaching at Middlebury College.

Once the interview was was set in stone, the seed had been planted. He started his journey to Vermont with just two wheels, and a heart that pumped of thrill.

When he brought the idea up to friends while he was hosting a barbeque, he got responses like “Are you stupid? You can not ride your bike to Vermont.”

But that didn’t stop him.

“The interview is in 10 days,” he exclaimed. “I have to make it, right? If I really want this job, I can’t be late, so I got on my bike the next morning.”

Weinberg’s wife and college sweetheart of 22 years, Sloan, didn’t flinch at his idea.

“I believe that I wasn’t surprised,” she said. “The surprise would come when I tried to explain to other people what he was doing.”

The road from Illinois to Vermont was a risky path, and even almost ended up with Weinberg getting arrested for sleeping on the side of the road. Pedaling nearly 200 miles a day left him feeling depleted. Luckily, he was able to use what energy he had left to talk his way out of it, and he kept going.

“And that’s how we moved here, just out of nowhere,” he said.

By stepping out of his comfort zone, Weinberg ended up in the quaint, little state of Vermont. And if you ask him, he is all about stretching life’s limits.

“One thing I’ve always been into, that’s really important to me, is helping young people grow and become successful in whatever they do,” he said with passion in his voice.

Weinberg cares about his students. He jokes around with them, walks up and down aisles of the classroom and encourages students to speak out during his classes. You won’t find him just standing at the front of the classroom giving a lecture that puts you to sleep. Instead, he immerses himself in the activity and teaches from the heart.

“When you think of a college professor, you don’t think of someone who’s gonna run around … All my other professors, they lecture us. He’s doing the lecture while he’s doing like an agility workout in the classroom,” said Eric Decker, who has had and known Weinberg as a professor for three-and-a-half years and is now his teaching assistant.

On Monday nights, he teaches a class for adults with intellectual learning disabilities. The class is a mix of students with disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy to down syndrome, and if it weren’t for this class, a handful of the students would not be able to have any sort of college experience.

“Professor Andy is the greatest professor you could ever ask for to be involved with this class. He really has the love for these kids and these people. You can tell he enjoys what he’s doing. He’s very lovable, kind of like Elmo on Sesame Street,” said Chrissy Bales, a 42-year-old student who sits low in a wheelchair and suffers from cerebral palsy. This is her third year taking

Weinberg’s class. She enjoys the energetic vibe and the opportunity to get out of her house and into a classroom setting.

When Weinberg walks into the Glenbrook Gym, he jokes with one of the students about his choice to wear Boston Celtics pajama pants to a class where students are bowling, dribbling basketballs and tossing around footballs.

“I told him to wear his sport pants to class instead of jeans, these are his sport pants,” Weinberg chuckled as he told the story.

The physical education professor has a big heart when it comes to helping people of all abilities. Not only is he involved with helping students at Castleton, but he is also heavily involved as a board member of Special Olympics Vermont and a volunteer for Vermont Adaptive’s Core Connections programs.

He has Special Olympics posters hung in a neat manner all around his office, along with some other endurance racing posters.

“He’s a great teacher to promote all different types of sports to the student body and public in general,” said Tom Alcorn, Vermont Adaptive’s senior program coordinator who has known him for seven years. “A couple of years ago I asked him to join us for the CORE connections program held in the summer. Since then has been a great help when he is able to teach and assist our participants.”

Ask his students, colleagues or family members and they will tell you that Weinberg is a ball of energy. He starts his day at 4 a.m. and is always up and active.

“He is up by 4 a.m. and wants to have a full conversation and doesn’t understand why we won’t answer him or why we’re grumpy,” said Sloan jokingly.

His daughter Grace agrees. She said he just never stops going.

“Just when you think this guy is throwing in the towel, he’ll go another 50 miles, literally and figuratively,” she said. “Aside from being a professor at Castleton, on the board of Special Olympics, and being the race director of an endurance company he founded, he’ll always find time to squeeze in a workout. It could be lunges waiting in line at the grocery store, grading papers while on the spin bike, or mowing the lawn with a backpack full of stones. He takes every monotonous daily task, and turns it into an opportunity to stay active.”

Weinberg doesn’t walk, he runs. His desk is put up at standing height because the guy doesn’t really sit.

He knows how to hacky sack and can even “breakdance…kind of,” said his daughter, Jade.

For fun, he and his friends ride their bikes to the Canadian border just to see how long it will take. And for the record, it took about 15 hours.

“He’s got more energy than anyone I’ve ever known…he’ll run to Huden with his green tray and he’ll be like sprinting back and then like run from his office to the gym and like run around the gym and run back to his office. He’s always running, and it’s the weirdest thing,” said Decker.

This energy is what got Andy into pushing himself to the limits as an endurance athlete. He would challenge himself by going out for a run in the “pouring down rain,” because he knew no one else was doing it.

He thought to himself “If I can deal with this, it will make me stronger.”

Weinberg has participated in all sorts of endurance races, but one that really sticks out in his memory is the Quintuple Ironman, a race that consisted of a 12-mile swim, a 560-mile bike race, and a 121-mile run. The race takes a total of four days, and sleep is not on the schedule.

“During that time, your brain and your mind start to play tricks on you, so you hallucinate,” he said.

He recalls a part of the bike portion when he hadn’t slept in 35 hours and was swerving his bike all over the path.

“I kept swerving and swerving, almost crashing,” he said. “This guy came up next to me and asked ‘Are you okay? You gotta stop, you’re swerving, you’re gonna crash’ and I go well I don’t want to kill the frogs.”

Weinberg’s brain was playing tricks on him. The so-called “frogs” he recalled, where just leaves blowing in the wind. His friend still laughs about the incident.

That particular race took him 100 hours to complete, and he only slept three or four hours.

Not only does Weinberg participate in these seemingly impossible races, he also been putting them on for 20 years, and even owns his own racing company called the Endurance Society.

But before the Endurance Society, he was one of the original cofounders of what is now known as Spartan Race, and the whole reason he moved to Vermont in the first place. Back then, it was called Peak.

He and a former friend started Peak together, and it’s something that ultimately changed his life.

“I lost a person who was a very good friend of mine at the time, and one of the reasons I moved to Vermont,” he said about the falling out with his former Spartan Race partner.

This was a big turning point in Weinberg’s life. When Spartan was starting to become a big company, it turned him off.

His ideal race is no more than 200-300 people.

“You can really get to know people and where they’re from,” he said.

The original Spartan Race headquarters was in Pittsfield, just a few miles down the road from Killington. When the number of participants started to grow, greed followed.

“At the time I didn’t think much of it because I thought, who cares we are gonna make money, the company is gonna be bigger,” said Weinberg. “But as the company grew…we got investors, one of them being Reebok, and they wanted to move it to Boston.”

He had just taken the risk to move his family to Vermont. They had just settled down, and he didn’t want to move to Boston, or any other big city for that matter. Weinberg found joy in Vermont, being able to hike his backyard with his dog Roo, go on long bike rides, and especially the small community vibe of everyone knowing each other.

When the company left, it became corporate and things began to change.

“It was no longer one of my brainchilds,” he said thinking. “My brainchild, myself, my former partner, we had all these ideas and those all stopped because now it was other people making the calls…we kind of had a breakup so to speak.”

Like everything else in life, Weinberg did not let this stop him. This is what inspired the Endurance Society. Along with the Special Olympic posters hanging around his office, he also has a bunch of Endurance Society posters from past events. It is a tight knit community, just the kind of company that he had been longing for.

“It’s the people that I want to hang around…the people that come to our events are nice people, and they’re people who care about each other and they’re people that I want to be around,” he said excitedly.

When Weinberg isn’t teaching at Castleton or off running around, he’s just like you and me. He finds a guilty pleasure in the show Dance Moms, and really is just a big goof ball say his wife and daughters.

“He’s an amazing dad, husband, mentor, comedic relief, and training partner. He’s unique, he’s simple, and he’s generous beyond words. It’s hard to come by a man like him,” said Grace.

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