Light blue Little 500 uniforms with black angelic wings on the front circled the track at Bill Armstrong Stadium on March 23 for Qualifications.
The four women sporting the uniforms qualified with the 22nd fastest time. It was the first time they were able to wear the new uniforms, and it was the first time any of them had competed at quals. Friday, April 12, will be the first time any of them race in a Little 500.
Underneath the black angelic wings on the light blue uniforms is a black eight-lettered word.
Sophomore Grace Horan and juniors Alexandra Nusawarhana, Ann Marie Matheny and Eleanor Conn are the four women that make up the first ever women’s GodSpeed team.
Matheny always had an interest in running, but not too much in biking. All she had was a commuter bike growing up, so her first experience with a road bike was interesting. Changing the clips and switching the gears were among the big struggles she encountered at first.
She tried her best to learn the way around a Little 500 bike during the summer so come August she would be prepared to help her teammates.
It was at the end of last year’s Little 500 race that Matheny had been so engulfed in the spectacle that she wanted to be on the other side of the fence. She remembers leaning over the fence her freshman year, taking splits on her watch as she persuaded her friends to stay a little bit longer as the men raced 200 laps. She remembers seeing Rachel Brown her sophomore year fly past everyone else on the last lap to win the race for Kappa Alpha Theta.
She was in awe, and she wanted to be a part of it.
Matheny had a friend on Black Key Bulls who put her in contact with Melanzana. Simultaneously, since Matheny is very involved with the St. Paul Catholic Center, the priest approached her and said he heard she was interested in setting up a bike team. The church was looking to set one up for years, so he asked Matheny if she would be up for it.
“I could be placed on a very good team, do very well in Little Five, but there’s also a chance I might not be able to race because I’d be a rookie on a good team,” Matheny said. “Or I could start up an entire new team. Like, captain of it, lead it myself, guaranteed a spot to race and still be biking with and for the community I’m a part of. So, I chose that.”
Her next goal was to try and raise some money and find a team. She found three former IU athletes. Nusawarhana was a former swimmer, who had two shoulder dislocations that forced her to lose her scholarship, so she chose to ride in Little 500. Horan and Conn were both on the rowing team, but decided the sport wasn’t for them and also chose Little 500 instead.
“I could spend hours out on the track,” Conn said. “I love it so much.”
GodSpeed had its riders, but still needed to find a sponsor to help with money as well as a coach.
Sue Reynolds, who was once obese but then became one of the best triathlon competitors in the U.S., came to Switchyard Brewing Company in Bloomington to tell her story. After hearing it, Matheny reached out to her, and Reynolds agreed to sponsor their team by paying her coach, Brant Baller, to coach GodSpeed.
“He is a baller,” Matheny said. “He’s really supportive. He comes out and watches us at the track and we’re constantly in contact with him.”
In the fall, GodSpeed would train five days a week and take as much advantage of what Mother Nature would offer before winter hit. It was then when they needed to purchase rollers, which allow you to ride a bike indoors without moving forward as you balance yourself on the rolls — two in the back, one in the front — to train inside when the weather is bad.
Unlike some of the more established teams in the Little 500 field, GodSpeed doesn’t have a fancy training room for indoor workouts.
GodSpeed either practiced in the cafeteria or a storage closet of St. Paul’s basement at 9 a.m. when the church was empty.
“That’s where a lot of the magic happens,” Matheny said.
Placing doesn’t matter for GodSpeed. Having the 22nd fastest time at quals was a celebration.
Come race day, no matter the placing, the team will be content.
“No matter what happens this year, it’s a momentous accomplishment,” Matheny said. “If we get last place, that’s amazing.”
For the first time since 2002, a GodSpeed team will be competing in Little 500. A men’s GodSpeed team has also been revitalized for this season, but for the women, it will be the inaugural team.
“It’s amazing,” Conn said. “I didn’t realize how much support we had. It’s just a wonderful thing.”
Matheny said she is looking forward to coming back to IU many years after she graduates and seeing how much the women’s GodSpeed team has grown.
“We are laying the foundation, so it can only go up from here,” she said.
Come race day, the women are going to be psyched out of their minds to be one of 32 teams competing in the women’s Little 500.
But one of the most exciting moments for the team will come right before the race. It’s something Matheny said she daydreams about in her statistical theory and econometrics courses. It’s the words of the Grand Marshal.
“Riders, race smart, keep your heads up, good luck and Godspeed.”
“Everyone who knows of GodSpeed in our community is so excited for that and is going to go absolutely ballistic,” she said.
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