Part-Time Passions: June 2010

The members featured this month build high-performance sidecars and referee lacrosse

7 June 2010

Michael Currin
Road Warrior

It was seeing the tough guy always get the girl in biker movies that lured IEEE Member Michael Currin to motorcycles. He stayed for the speed and the thrill.

“I started riding as soon as I got a driver’s license at 16, and I quickly got hooked,” Currin says. “I went through my chopper phase—riding bikes with the long front end, which actually degraded handling and comfort but looked cool.”

As he got older, he acquired BMWs (a K11RS and an R80RT), which, he says, are more about performance and comfort. Currin now has six motorcycles.

curr Profession:

He is an operations-research systems analyst for the U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. More than 35 years after he got on his first bike, he still rides almost every day, including during his 80-­kilometer round trip to work.

But these days he’s part of a niche group of riders. “I’m a motorcyclist who’s evolved into a sidecarist,” he says. Currin builds high-performance sidecars, one-wheeled devices that attach to a motorcycle and carry one or two people. The souped-up suspensions and other custom and performance features can run US $18 000 to $20 000.

His younger son, Jake, got him interested in sidecars. Jake was born with cerebral palsy and is unable to use his legs. “I realized he’d never be able to ride on the back of a motorcycle, so I started looking into sidecars,” Currin says. “I also built a trailer to haul his wheelchair that rides behind his sidecar. When he was a toddler, I’d take him to school in the sidecar, and the other kids would line up to watch him ride up.”

When Currin, with Jake, had trouble keeping up during motorcycle rallies—­at which enthusiasts gather and ride in groups—he modernized his original sidecar with an improved suspension that can handle car tires, rather than motorcycle tires. “It puts more rubber on the road for better traction and stability, as well as getting around corners faster,” he explains.

The rest of his family is involved in his hobby. Currin built another sidecar for his older son, Cody, and a motorcycle trike—a three-wheeled motorcycle—for his wife.

But the family-friendly bikes are a lot tougher than they look, he says: “I see 60-year-old motorcyclists with sidecars outrunning the kids on sport bikes.”


hyland Profession:

Michael Hyland
Resilient Referee

Not even a serious injury could keep IEEE Member Michael Hyland from his lifetime love of lacrosse.

It took several weeks for him to recover from a cracked neck vertebra he suffered in college while playing the game. But today, almost 30 years later, he’s more active in lacrosse than ever.

When he’s not busy as vice president of engineering services for the American Public Power Association, in Washington, D.C., he’s either playing, coaching, or officiating the sport. He’s a National Collegiate Athletic Association Lacrosse official and one of 10 referees chosen to officiate at the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships, in Manchester, England, in July.

In lacrosse, players run down a field, passing a small rubber ball to one another using long-handled racquets with loose mesh netting at one end in which they catch the ball. The players try to throw the ball into the other team’s guarded goal.

“Lacrosse is many sports rolled into one. You hit your opponents like in football, run as you do in soccer, and have formations like those in ice hockey and basketball,” says Hyland, who has been playing lacrosse since he was 12. “It’s a very fast game—and it’s not for wussies.”

That point was driven home hard when Hyland was a freshman on a lacrosse scholarship at the U.S. Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1982. During a game early in the season, a blow to his neck put him in the hospital for six weeks. The injury curtailed his aggressive play—which ruled out college teams. So Hyland decided instead to study electrical engineering at Drexel University in his hometown, Philadelphia.

“My father worked for Westinghouse and wanted one of his seven sons to go into engineering,” he says. “I was very good at math and science, so I became the one.”

But he never completely lost the lacrosse bug. After graduating in 1988 and forging a career at electric utilities, he still played on the occasional club team. He upped his coaching efforts after another lacrosse-related surgery in 1989 made him more realistic “about not throwing my body into people anymore.”

Even his coaching slowed. After Hyland’s second child was born in 1994, he began coaching fewer hours and found another activity that didn’t require as much time: officiating. “It was only twice a week, and it fit into my schedule better,” he says. In 1997, he started refereeing college games.

Today, he coaches at his local high school and officiates at college games in Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Hyland as a referee has found some similarities between engineering and lacrosse. “Both have precise rules, and you’re required to make tough decisions that aren’t always popular,” he says. “In a stadium of 20 000 people, no matter what call you make, 50 percent are gonna be mad at you. But your job is to make the right call.”

Photos: Jim Finney (top), Charlotte Souder (bottom)

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