My First Bike Race: The Little 500

By Kate Bennett, PsyD

After not having set foot on Indiana University’s campus for several years, I was overjoyed to discover that the Little 500 bicycle race is now televised. While the movie “Breaking Away” creates a sense of nostalgia, nothing quite does the Little 500 justice like watching the actual race unfold.

Crash after crash reminded me not only of the gnarly conditions (experienced cyclists battling first time racers on a cinder track with platform pedals and coaster breaks) but of my very first bike race: the Little 500. It is interesting to reflect on how my cycling career got started. Innocently, I talked my dad into getting me a bike because 1) it seemed like a good way to exercise, 2) cycling was common on campus, and 3) I thought it would help with my shin splints. At the time, I was completely unaware of what a “chamois” was and certainly did not understand that padded spandex works best when going commando. That summer I rode around my neighborhood on a bike two sizes too large wearing Umbros and sneakers.

Little did I know that, when I returned to campus with my first road bike the following year, I would be recruited to my sorority’s Little 500 team. I definitely did not anticipate that my first bike race would lead to my first crash three laps in nor did I imagine my derriere being center page of the Bloomington Herald as my feet catapulted over my head. The only indicator that it was, indeed, my chamois flying sky high was my sneaker, which was angled just right for identification. Needless to say, I was sore from head to toe that next day but that did not stop me from sharing the photo with every person I knew at the men’s race. Riding in the Little 500 was equivalent to being a student-athlete on campus. It was something to be proud of and shared regardless of how one’s team finished.

Looking back, I find it curious that I fell into the sport with no agenda other than to ride and continued to race despite that crash. As it turned out, I was pretty good on the bike and, with a bit of hard work and determination, I became quite accomplished throughout my racing career. However, the thing that got me riding in the first place is the very same thing that leads me to ride now: The freedom and joy of being out on my bike. Whether I am riding single track or pavement, I experience life in its purest sense. I ride my bike in pursuit of freedom, joy, and peace. Certainly, as an athlete, I love to push myself and nothing quite beats the adrenalin rush of a great race; however, I return to my bike after intervals, crashes, and disappointments, often times with heavy legs, knowing that tranquility is only a few pedal strokes away. Turn by turn, I pedal my bike knowing that joy will soon overcome my heart and mind. For me, riding my bike is not a chore, rather it is one of life's simplest pleasures.

How does sport bring you joy?