MORGANTOWN - To look at Kerry Werner, you really wouldn't think that you were looking at someone who was competing with the world's top cyclists. To talk to him, you wouldn't think you were talking to someone who in a few days time will be in Trentino, Italy, battling for the title of World Champion.
Werner, who will be entering his senior year at Twin Valley High School when school reconvenes after the summer, has found himself among the elite in young cyclists from across the globe after a string of victories here in the U.S., including a UCI World Championship qualifier that, going into the race, Werner didn't realize the importance of.
"I really didn't know that it was a qualifier for worlds," Werner said. "I thought it was a qualifier for nationals, but I got online later and found out it was for worlds."
After taking first in his division in that qualifier, the Greenbrier Cross Country Challenge, Werner finds himself on an exclusive list. He's one of only four American athletes who qualified and registered to compete in the Juniors Cross-Country Olympic race during the six-day world championships which start on June 17.
Werner, who got his start mountain biking at French Creek State Park when he was 12, has stuck with the sport, and now trains for around 15 hours a week, and races here in the U.S. with the Shirks Bike Shop team and a little with the Downingtown Iron Hill team.
"A friend got me into it," Werner said. "We rode at French Creek, and it was terrible. I don't know why I kept going back."
Rob Desruisseaux does know. He helps organize the Shirks team and has worked with Werner to prepare for races on the Mid Atlantic Super Series, and he says that Werner has an unnatural talent for cycling.
"This kid is so good that, last year, we had to put him in the expert class," Desruisseaux said. "He was winning all of his races by substantial margins. It never ceases to amaze me how focused and driven he is."
In fact, Desruisseaux says, Werner probably should not have even been in a position to win that qualifying race to get him into the World Championship.
"That morning, before the race, he competed in a time trial, which is a grueling, all-out kind of competition that just exhausts the body. He drove two, two-and-a-half hours to the mountain bike race that qualified him for worlds and won it by five or six minutes over his closest competitor."
Desruisseaux says he expects Werner to do very well in Italy, and believes he will probably finish in the top three in his division.
"I'd be surprised if he came back without a podium position," Desruisseaux said.
Werner said he has already set his goal for the race.
"I definitely want to be the first American to cross the line," he said. "I want to do well enough for the bigger teams, the factory teams, to talk a look at me."
Though he says that cycling is a possibility in his professional future, Werner definitely wants to go to college after high school and pursue a physical therapy degree.
He said he was thinking of applying to Lees-McRae College in North Carolina, which last year produced two NCAA Division-I cycling national champions, but would ultimately like to go to Pitt and study physical therapy.