No coach? Limited school support? Competing against schools with a budget four times bigger?
None of these factors were able to stop the St. Olaf Cycling team from claiming the Division II North Central Collegiate Cycling Conference at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities event in late April. If you haven’t been closely monitoring the progress of the St. Olaf Cycling team recently, you may have missed some incredible individual and group performances that have put St. Olaf Cycling at the top of its division. Due to consistently outstanding performances throughout the year, the team entered the championship as a strong favorite to claim the title.
“We basically had the title in the bag coming into the championship weekend,” team co-captain Sam Williams ’14 said.
After accruing a major lead over rivals University of St. Thomas and University of Northern Iowa, the team was confident heading into the event, knowing that a solid performance would clinch the title.
“But we did more than that. We had five podium finishes that weekend,” Williams said.
The result is even more remarkable when you consider the obstacles that the team faces on a daily basis.
“A lot of other schools have coaches who give them strict instructions on how to train. However, St. Olaf does not give us adequate funding to do this,” said co-captain Bridget Lillethorup ’15.
It seems peculiar that such a successful St. Olaf team should have to struggle harder than its competitors before the real race even begins. The team receives a fraction of the financial support of other college cycling teams – University of Iowa’s team is allocated four times more funding than St. Olaf’s.
The team aims to work hard to gain more support from St. Olaf, not only for the cycling club, but also for other club sports, in order to be able to focus more on their athletic pursuits rather than keeping the club financially viable.
“I’d like the school to acknowledge the potential we have here and embrace the opportunity to make a name for our school in the national spotlight,” Williams said.
When considering the imbalances in support, the team’s achievements become even more remarkable. Along with Lillethorup, team members Christian Ruud ’15, Anna Luckow ’15 and Emily Gotzsche ’16 all placed in the top three in the overall season results. Despite the numerous challenges that lie ahead, the future of St. Olaf Cycling appears bright.
“Looking ahead just one year, I want to send at least two individuals to Nationals,” Williams said.
Luckow also recognizes the strong potential for growth that exists for St. Olaf Cycling.
“I want more people at our school to know about the cycling team and how successful we have been,” Luckow said. “People see us riding around, but they do not know that we are competitive and how big of a deal it really is.”
The team’s devotion to the sport and its persevering ethic are enough to make anyone proud to have them representing St. Olaf. As Division II Conference Champions, credibility might at long last be given.
“We’re a small club, our efforts are impressive and a little recognition would be nice not just for our club, but for all small organizations on campus,” Lillethorup said.
And just as other competitors are taking notice, St. Olaf may find the team too hard to ignore.
Image by Emma Johnson