The Little 500 is an annual bike race at IU that dates back to 1951. In the earlier years, women were allowed to participate in the Little 500, but all-women groups never qualified among the top 33 teams.
According to an IU Blog post, the Mini 500 was created in 1954 as an alternative to the Little 500 for female students at IU. The Mini 500 was an indoor tricycle race originally held in the Bill Garrett Fieldhouse, but it was viewed as a recreational race, and many women wanted to compete on a higher level.
On race day, teams of four women shared one miniature tricycle. Each rider would do their portion of laps around the oval track and then leap off the mini bike. To transition between members, the next teammate would run alongside the bike, grab the handlebars and leap onto the bike.
In 1987, Kappa Alpha Theta, an all-female team, attempted to participate in that year’s Little 500 race. The team passed the first round of requirements but came in 34th place with a time of 3:03.72 during the final qualifications, making them 26 minutes away from qualifying for the Little 500.
According to a News at IU article, Lee Ann Guzek, Martha Hinkamp, Darcy Fieck and Kathy Cleary returned to campus in the following fall semester with hopes of starting a women’s race in the Little 500. The team spent the year advertising the race with the Indiana University Student Federation, the student committee that organizes the Little 500.
Over 30 teams had signed up for the women’s race, and the assistant director of Indiana University Student Foundation at the time, Spero Pulos, had found each team a coach, according to the article.
The riders of Kappa Alpha Theta were the face of the event, so they naturally became the team to beat. At the first qualification round in the spring of 1987, Kappa Alpha Theta came in first place in the race and Wilkie Sprint, a team of women from the Willkie Quadrangle, placed eighth.
In the official race on April 22, 1988, Wilkie Sprint beat Kappa Alpha Theta by nine seconds and was crowned the winner of the first ever women’s Little 500 race.
The women's race, which was first created by Kappa Alpha Theta riders, still stands strong today. IU freshman Claire Tips joined the Kappa Alpha Theta’s cycling team in January after longing to be a part of an athletic team. After almost three months of training, the big race is approaching for Tips and the Kappa Alpha Theta team.
“I am so honored to be a part of a cool and deeply rooted tradition,” Tips said. “I had no idea how important it was until I got here.”
The 35th women’s race will be held at 4 p.m. April 21 at Bill Armstrong Stadium.