Despite the rain, wind and cold weather over the past two weeks, cycling masks the dreary weather for athletes training for this year’s Little 500.
Racing season has officially begun in Bloomington, and fledgling riders finished circling the blackened pavement on Feb. 22 at Bill Armstrong Stadium to signify the conclusion of Rookie Week practices.
“These practices are really important, especially because for a lot of people, it’s their very first time out on the track,” Kappa Alpha Theta captain Erika Arakawa said. “It’s our responsibility to get them used to not only learning the basic skills like exchanging and pack riding, but also to get them used to different conditions.”
Coupled with offseason preparation, it’s during Rookie Week when teams look to develop new talent that will contend for victories this year and beyond.
For Kappa Alpha Theta, they're looking to be the first women's team in Little 500 history to win three straight titles, but every individual rider has to start somewhere.
Sophomore Anna Young was initiated into Theta last February. Now she is one of the numerous rookie riders to join the prestigious cycling team this season. Young’s individual training began over the summer and she began to train with the team after returning to Bloomington in the fall.
During her freshman year, Young said she was missing the athletic purpose in her life. At a younger age, she competed in sprintathons and was a competitive swimmer, but she didn't participate in sports in 2018.
After Young joined Kappa Alpha Theta, Arakawa reintroduced that purpose to her. Young said Arakawa was one of her first friends in the house and their relationship has only grown since. Young had no prior knowledge of the sorority's historical success in the Little 500.
As a member of the Riders Council, Arakawa aids the development of many riders pedaling around the track for the first time. But as a team captain, she also trains with her own team’s rookie riders. Over the course of Rookie Week, aspiring racers strengthened not only their bodies, but their knowledge of the sport.
Young said learning track safety was a crucial to her Rookie Week education. Weather and track conditions are going to be different every single day, and adapting to the changes creates the safest racing environment possible.
She also said these practices are important for building relationships with other teams. New riders share advice from with each and they experience training together. In some cases, the athletes who shared the track during Rookie Week will be competitors for the next three to four years.
Through training, Theta built an extensive support system with their active members and alumni. The sorority that started the women's Little 500 has won eight races, the most by any women’s team.
Members of the past have paved the way for future teams, culminating in a culture that brings past and present together. Current riders, even rookies, have an opportunity to follow in their alumni's footsteps.
Theta has won two Little 500 races in a row for the second time in five years. With the legacy that is tied to the sorority and the loss of last year’s hero, Rachel Brown, the pressure is on for the team to win it all again.
When time permits, the team sits down to coordinate their schedules with one another. When can they schedule team meetings? When do they complete homework? When is everyone in class? How much race tape do they watch outside of practice?
“Biking is always a factor in your mind,” Arakawa said. “Whatever I do, am I able to still bike?”
New riders discover that what happens over the course of a season is anything but expected. Weather and other natural factors are out of their control, but their dedication and effort lie in their own hands.
The offseason planning and training have led to the moment when the cycling season begins. For the rookies, this season is about tracking their progress and development.
“Everyone tells me, ‘The first year is the prime year for how much you improve’,” Young said. “Being able to see my progress and also just being with my teammates, because honestly, the best part is the team aspect.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that Kappa Alpha Theta is looking to be the first team in Little 500 history to win three straight titles, but they would be the first women's team in race history to do so. The IDS regrets this error.