To fulfill dream of being in Little 500 race, IU senior swimmer makes move from pool to track
It was just a matter of achieving that goal.
Strumbel, a four-year swimmer with Coach Ray Looze and the IU swimming and diving team, is now only one week away from potentially competing in her first Little 500. She is currently an alternate for Wing It Cycling.
Her journey included the realization she will have to give up swimming — the sport she grew up with — and move to cycling. But already in this new sport, Strumbel has achieved success with a top-35 finish in the 2012 Individual Time Trials. It shows how anyone’s dreams can be achieved as long as the effort is made to do so, she said.
“I wanted to come away from the Little Five with new experiences and friends and a way into the world of cycling,” Strumbel said. “I have always had a sport, and now I want to pursue this one. The Little 500 seemed like the best way to become involved.”
Strumbel came to IU to swim in fall 2008 with 13 Ohio state swimming championships and a two-event performance in the 2008 Olympic Trials already under her belt. During her four-year tenure as an IU swimmer, Strumbel earned four school records, including the Big Ten record 1:43.93 in the 200-yard freestyle.
During her first three years, she also attended every Little 500 and grew an aspiration to compete in the race. Then something happened that made Strumbel realize her dream could be fulfilled.
“I knew I wanted to have that experience for myself after watching two senior swimmers finish their seasons and go on to pursue biking in the Little 500,” Strumbel said. “I have been swimming my whole life and was ready to try a different type of sport and stay in shape.”
Last summer, Strumbel reached out to the IU Student Foundation, which organizes Little 500, in hopes of being placed onto a team as a rider or an alternate. In the fall, IUSF placed her on Wing It as an alternate rider. She and the team met for the first time late in the fall 2011 semester.
“I met with the team late fall, and we clicked,” Strumbel said. “The girls on Wing It Cycling have been fantastic and have made this experience more than what I hoped for. As Abigail (Legg) says, ‘We’re a hodge-podge of awesomeness,’ and you would just have to meet one of them to know that.”
Once the swimming season began, however, Strumbel quickly realized making time for training for the Little 500 would be more difficult than expected. During spring training, she would be swimming from 5:45 to 7:30 a.m., attending classes and work throughout the day, swimming again from 2:30 to 5 p.m. and practicing with Wing It from 5 to 7:15 p.m. Strumbel said there were multiple times when she had to miss Little 500 practice due to scheduling conflicts and would instead practice exchanges on her own.
“We were rooting for her to have a great senior season before worrying about getting her on a bike,” Wing It rider Melissa Moeller said. “I really am taken aback by the number of things she has been able to balance because she gives 100 percent in everything she does and never misses a beat.”
When swimming season ended March 17 after the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, at which Strumbel finished as an All-American in two events, she was finally able to fully participate in Little 500 events.
Though she did not compete in Qualifications, in which Wing It finished 11th, she did participate in ITTs and Miss-N-Out. In ITTs, Strumbel finished in 32nd place with a time of 2:51.12, putting her in the top third of riders competing in this year’s race. Days later, Strumbel made it to the quarterfinals of Miss-N-Out.
“I came into this situation knowing that I was not going to actually be in the race unless something like an injury occurred,” Strumbel said. “However, I am going to experience Little Five in the way that I wanted to, being on and supporting a great team. I have learned so much about cycling so far, and the Spring Series Events have been a lot of fun.”
Even if she does not compete in this year’s race, Strumbel’s improvement as a biker has been notable, her teammates said. What she said she hopes for, though, is that her swimming training and newfound biking desire will help her compete in triathlons after her collegiate career. She will graduate in May with a degree in environmental management.
“Brittany brings the utmost enthusiasm and genuine interest in improvement to every practice and team function,” Moeller said. “Her positivity just makes her a great person to be around.”
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