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Tuesday, April 16
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IU alumna details victory in first women's Little 500 in new book

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Spring is in full swing in Bloomington, and as the leaves return and the flowers bloom, the sights and sounds of the Little 500 are right around the corner. Indiana University’s “greatest college weekend” counts as one of IU’s top tier traditions. Just as the 1979 academy award winning movie, “Breaking Away,” was inspired by the story of 1962 Little 500 winner Dave Blase, a new book shares another tale inspired by a Little 500 triumph. 

“Willkie Sprint: A Story of Friendship, Love and Winning the First Women’s Little 500 Race“ by Kerry Hellmuth released April 1 and tells the story of Hellmuth’s freshman year experience as an IU student and her time with the Wilkie Sprint team that would go on to win the first women’s Little 500 race in 1988. Aside from Wilkie Sprint’s triumphant and trailblazing victory at the inaugural women’s race, Hellmuth said the book functions as a coming-of-age tale any IU Bloomington student could relate to.  

“I want people to experience more than just the bike race in this book,” Hellmuth said.  

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The narrative narrates/elaborates on a freshman year experience, from peculiar professors and new friendships to first love and everything in between.  

“It's about the whole picture and it's actually about way more than just people riding around the center on the bikes.” Helmuth said. 

Hellmuth, who graduated from IU in 1991 with a degree in English, said the book originally started as a screenplay in 2020, after IU alumnus and filmmaker Austin Francalancia came to her with the plans of making a movie out of the story. Francalancia’s movie never came to fruition, but Hellmuth would eventually get offers from two other filmmakers before deciding to turn the story into a book herself.  

“You know what's cool about a book? It doesn't rely on anyone else, right?” Hellmuth said. “I can actually have the book out as opposed to not knowing if everyone's going to ever buy or touch my screenplay.” 

The story of the Wilkie Sprint champions wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of the 1987 Kappa Alpha Theta women’s cycling team which attempted to qualify for the men’s Little 500. The attempt led to the creation of the women's edition of the big race in 1988.  

“I show up as a freshman and you know, there was all this energy around the race because they had done this big fight for it and students knew about it,” Hellmuth said. 

Hellmuth tells the story of the 1987 Theta team in the book’s prologue. The buzz of the 1987 team carried into Hellmuth’s freshman year, where she first became interested in the race after hearing her dorm’s resident advisor promote it at her first floor meeting. Hellmuth, who participated in numerous sports and triathlons during her youth in Madison, Wisconsin, was immediately hooked.  

“We get to IU, and I didn't even bring the bike right, and I hear about this team, so at Thanksgiving, I make my dad strap my bike on the back of the car,” Hellmuth said, laughing. 

While the emotions of the narrative reach its highest at Wilkie Sprint’s underdog victory, Hellmuth wants students to enjoy every memory that might be portrayed in the story, highs and lows.  

“It's coming of age on the track; it’s also just like the relationships that you have with each other, and that's the magic in life,” she said. “Don't undervalue those memories.”  

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Hellmuth also encourages students to take part in the race at least once in their time at IU. 

“Willkie Sprint: A Story of Friendship, Love and Winning the First Women’s Little 500 Race” will be available at the IU bookstore and at the Little 500 on race day. You can also find the book online at Amazon and IU Press.  

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