It’s a whole new world for reigning XTERRA World Champion Rom Akerson, who opens the 2019 Pan American Tour racing season Saturday with a victory at XTERRA Argentina.
Just five months ago, the “Costa Rican Kid” contemplated retiring from the sport.
“I didn’t know if I could keep going as an athlete,” said Akerson, who persevered through one setback after another in recent years, including a debilitating leg injury that required surgery and forced him to miss most of the 2017 season.
“When I signed with Coopenae Bank 10 years ago the goal was to get on the podium at a World Championship. I came as close as 4th at Cross Tri Worlds in Italy (2015) and I was in the top 10 in Maui for four straight years, but I hadn’t cracked that top three and it was getting frustrating. It was my time to produce or go do something else.”
Produce he did, passing seven-time World Champ Ruben Ruzafa two-miles into the run to take the lead and ultimately the tape at the 2018 XTERRA World Championship. The title meant he could keep living the dream and continue to race professionally.
“It took the pressure off,” he said. “And it felt so good to deliver for my sponsors, and my family, and the whole country that supported me through the years. I don’t just mean economic support, but the emotional support. It was like, WE did it!”
Akerson returned home to a hero’s welcome, a vote of confidence from his long-time sponsor Coopenae, and a new deal with Specialized Latin America that will put him on the seat of an Epic S-Works this Saturday.
And in what turned out to be a stroke of luck upon landing in Argentina before the race, the airline told him that bike didn’t make it on his flight, but they’ll come deliver it later.
“Ah, it’s no problem,” said the easy-going Akerson, who didn't get the bike until 6am on race morning (read race report). “I’m in a good place right now. I’ve been training my butt off and am just super positive. I took all of November and December off, put in a lot of family time and beach time, and just got back to training the first week of January. My times are good, so we’ll see how it all comes together.”
It all came together just in time and Akerson held off the hard-charging Kieran McPherson for the win in Argentina. And when he thinks big picture for the season, Akerson is shooting for the stars.
“The ultimate goal is to defend my XTERRA World Championship in Maui and see if I can get an ITU World Title in Spain as well. I’m also doing XTERRA Chile this weekend, so if the points look good, I’ll chase the Pan Am Tour crown too.”
It’s clear Akerson has come a long way since pondering retirement in October.
“Yeah, getting that title was huge. Everyone is so supportive, and happy for me, and the XTERRA family has been inviting me to races all over the world. There is as much opportunity for me now as there ever was, and I’m just 34-years-old. I mean, look at Josiah (Middaugh), he’s 40 and still the man to beat, so why can’t I race another couple years?”
Why not, indeed, and if there’s one thing for certain, XTERRA is where he belongs.
“I was born on the beach, raised on the beach, grew up on my mountain bike and running in the sand and on the trails,” he said. “XTERRA comes naturally to me. The vibe, the community, the scenery, it all fits into who I am.”