Andrea Balzano had never ridden a bicycle competitively until she came to IU in Fall 2010. In fact, she had never participated in any sort of competitively athletic activity.
Today things are much different. As the director of the Little 500 race, which is put on by the IU Student Foundation, she oversees one of the most competitive intramural collegiate events to which more than 70 men’s and women’s teams devote endless hours of training throughout the year.
To Balzano, being the race director isn’t just any ordinary job. It’s a dream come true.
“It’s not often that you’re 25 and working your dream job, so I just feel very, very lucky,” Balzano said. “I have gained so much from being a part of this that all I want is to push that onto other students and to help them see the benefits of being part of this organization.”
When Balzano first came to IU as an undergraduate in fall 2010, she began competing for the IU equestrian team and took up running. During her sophomore year, while living in Collins LLC, she noticed a flyer in one of the stairwells. It was for a Collins Little 500 callout meeting.
She already enjoyed running, so Balzano decided to go to the meeting. When she showed up, she was the only woman there. Despite the poor showing, word spread that she wanted to start a Collins team, and two other students — Megan Burger and Madeline Hanley — approached her. They began training in the Wildermuth Intramural Center together three days a week.
Later that year, the team hired Zach Lusk to be its coach. Lusk was a former Little 500 rider who rode for Cutters and won the Little 500 in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Despite joining a team and finding a coach, Balzano didn’t really understand and appreciate the extent of the Little 500 community until December of 2010 when she attended a Little 500 open house at the Wilcox House.
“Little 500 really started for me that day,” Balzano said. “I just remember walking into the Peterson Room and being like, ‘Wow. All the women around me are really cool. They’re all physically strong women. They’re doing this cool thing, and this is way bigger than I thought it was.’”
The open house was also the first time she met then-Little 500 race director Jordan Bailey. She recalled thinking his job was awesome from the moment she met him. Two years later, during her senior year, her interest in the job really spiked.
“As soon as I became president of Rider’s Council, I knew I was really invested in IUSF and I wanted the job that Jordan Bailey had,” Balzano said.
Unfortunately for Balzano, she had no idea when the job might open, which forced her to pursue another path.
After graduating from IU, Balzano moved to South Dakota to teach ninth- and 10th-grade English and speech classes at St. Francis Indian School as part of the Teach for America mission. Balzano said many of the skills she acquired at IU helped her in the classroom.
“Being a Little 500 rider and a member of IUSF helped me with time management, self-care and leadership in the classroom,” Balzano said. “There were a lot of transferable skills from Little 500 to teaching.”
While she had planned on teaching at St. Francis Indian School for at least four years, her plans changed quickly when Bailey announced in March 2016 that it would be his last year as the race director.
After applying for the job and interviewing twice, Balzano received an offer about a month after she learned of Bailey’s departure in April 2016. She was grocery shopping at the time and didn’t really know how to reply. She said she remembers feeling overjoyed.
In June, Balzano moved back to Bloomington and got to work. She said it has been a busy year and there has been a bit of a learning curve but she wouldn’t trade it in for anything.
“I really love working with students,” Balzano said. “College is such a transformational period. It was for me, and I think it is for all students. I love watching students grow and helping them become better leaders.”
Now that the first year of her dream job is coming to a close, Balzano said it’s something she could see herself doing for a while.
“I definitely see myself doing this for several years,” Balzano said. “I don’t know how many years yet, but it will be hard to top what I’m doing now.”
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