Rolando Gonzalez went from a professional cyclist for the Costa Rican national team to a man desperate to find work in a new country he couldn’t call home. Finding time to race bikes quickly fell on his priority list. Finally, nearly 12 years after he moved to Durango, the 2006 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race champion can call himself a United States citizen and focus on cycling.
“When I came here, things went in a different direction, and I became an illegal immigrant,” Gonzalez said. “It was something I was always worried about. I had to be careful because everything could’ve been taken away any minute.”
His Costa Rican team had traveled to many Colorado mountain towns, and Gonzalez first competed in the Iron Horse race from Durango to Silverton in 2001.
He retired from his cycling team in 2003 and saw an opportunity to move to the United States a year later. He fell in love with Durango and made his move to Colorado in time to race the 2004 Iron Horse.
In a new country, Gonzalez struggled to find steady work without a Social Security number and green card. He worked at McDonald’s, found jobs as a janitor, swept streets, installed drywall – anything he could to make an income. He recalled crying all night after having to turn down a good job opportunity because of his undocumented status.
All the while he longed to race bikes.
“Mentally, it was really tough. It was hard knowing I could still race, but I didn’t have the means,” he said. “I couldn’t train like I wanted, and I couldn’t travel because I was afraid it would all get taken away. It was something I had to hide. If I would’ve been sent back to Costa Rica, what would I have done? I would’ve had no energy to start over.”
Despite his cheerful disposition, Gonzalez was depressed. People knew his history as a successful cyclist and questioned why he had some disappointing performances when he raced. His go-getter attitude was channeled into work instead of training.
His willingness to get his hands dirty landed Gonzalez a full-time janitorial job. He said his father taught him his work ethic at a young age, hoping he would become an electromechanical engineer. That’s what Gonzalez studied at a university in Costa Rica before making the leap to America.
His early work as a janitor eventually inspired Gonzalez in 2009 to start his own company, CRC Janitorial. Gonzalez took the first three letters of his International Cycling Union code number, CRC, to provide the namesake of his company. CRC represented the UCI code for Costa Rica, and he wanted something to identify with his homeland.
He poured his heart into his new company while also starting a family. He married his wife, Stacy, on Christmas Day in 2013. The two had been friends for a long time before dating, developing a connection soon after Gonzalez arrived in Durango.
After getting married, Gonzalez was in the Immigration and Naturalization Service system and began the lengthy process to become a documented citizen. A little less than a year ago, the couple had their first son, Alec. Gonzalez also has a 7-year-old son, Sam, who spends his breaks from school in Durango.
Gonzalez said his legal status has been a relief for the family, especially Stacy.
“When we were first friends, he was scared for his safety, and I got to see that,” Stacy said. “To be able to see him with confidence now knowing he’s not going anywhere, it’s been exciting.”
Gonzalez also started his own cycling team in Durango, sponsored by his CRC Janitorial company along with several big sponsors. The team has grown the last three years and began taking on junior riders. Along the way, Gonzalez established a partnership on the cycling team with Durango’s Richard Stanley, who said he has noticed a huge weight lifted off his friend’s shoulders this year.
“It was always in the back of his mind because he’s worked real hard to build a life and business here, and any moment that could’ve been taken away if he didn’t get citizenship, which quite honestly he deserved,” Stanley said. “He did it the right way, didn’t cheat. It’s nice to see this move off his plate so he can focus on the team, riding and family.”
Stacy would like to see her husband get more into cycling now that he has established his business and citizenship. First, though, Gonzalez will travel to Costa Rica to visit family after being unable to visit for nearly 12 years.
“It would be nice for him to fulfill his dreams,” Stacy said. “It all went on the back burner for 11 years while he was just trying to survive here.”
Inspired by Durango legend Ned Overend and his continued cycling success at a late age, Gonzalez joked he has time to become an Iron Horse legend, though he doesn’t expect to be in contention at this year’s race.
“I never expected to be where I am right now with the situation I was in when I first came here,” Gonzalez said. “The passion of my life is cycling, and I figure I still have a few more years to push.”