Cyclist sets sights on 2016 Olympics
ALEXANDRIA — Olympic athletes don’t often come from towns of 12,000 people. Then again, Olympic athletes don’t ever conform to traditional standards.
Alexandria’s Missy Erickson is further proof of that. Many people would say she is getting ahead of herself. They would see that she has less than a year of experience since she completely devoted herself to track cycling and think there’s no way. But that’s not how Olympic athletes think, and that’s not how Erickson thinks.
“We want to go to Rio,” she said of her and her U.S. teammate Madalyn Godby. “Nobody wants to say it’s never going to happen, but you can get hurt, you could just stop improving, there’s many factors that go into qualifying and being selected by your national committee to go … but we’re full on, full speed, the big goal is Rio.”
Rio de Janeiro is the site of the 2016 summer games and the destination that Erickson has devoted her life to. The Jefferson High School graduate has chased her cycling dreams all over the country since graduating in 2008.
It started by accepting a full cycling scholarship to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. There she won more than 35 individual national championship medals for top-five finishes competing in track, mountain bike, cyclo cross and road races.
Erickson graduated last spring and moved to Los Angeles to train.
That’s where she started to focus strictly on sprinting.
Track cyclists race on velodromes, which are steeply banked oval tracks. They have no brakes and one fixed gear on bikes that are designed to reach maximum possible speeds of more than 40 mph.
“It’s really fast and really explosive,” Erickson said. “All about power and speed, tricking your opponent to move a certain direction and sealing positions. It’s really fun. That’s the only way I can describe it. I love it.”
A natural on the track
Erickson realized rather quickly that it’s also a style she excels at. She started training full time on the track last May. By December, it was clear that she had found her niche in cycling after she posted a time of 11.70 in a flying 200 to qualify for the U.S. National Track Sprint Program.
“In terms of her potential, it’s unlimited,” U.S. cycling coach Mark Tyson said. “She has the natural gifts to be a sprint athlete at the very highest level.”
Tyson saw that kind of natural ability in her from the first time he met her in Colorado Springs as a young college cyclist. Erickson was there with her teammates to prepare for collegiate nationals when the coach for Fort Lewis asked Tyson to identify riders for specific events.
Tyson said he was impressed by her power and presence on the bike. He introduced himself and the two continued to keep in touch over her collegiate career. At the time, Erickson was obligated to participate in mostly endurance events because of her college scholarship.
Training with the best
Those requirements changed once she graduated last spring. Tyson had encouraged her to move to Colorado Springs someday so he could work closely with her in her training. That seemed like the natural next step after she qualified for the National Track Sprint Program in December.
About a month ago, Erickson took him up on that offer as she made the move from California to Colorado.
The opportunity to work alongside her coach and a talented cyclist in Godby who is chasing the same goal she is was too good to pass up. Erickson is currently an off-campus resident at the Olympic Training Center, where she has access to food, recovery, weight rooms and training centers.
“I’m still kind of getting used to it,” she said, “just because my first time here at the OTC was in 2008 for a youth talent cycling I.D. camp. I was walking around and seeing the Olympic rings and the athletes training there and you say, ‘I want to do this someday.’
“Now that I’m here and I’ve been given the opportunity to be one of those athletes, I still feel kind of awkward and out of place.”
That’s been part of a long list of surreal experiences for Erickson over the past year. Another came in her first international race at the Pan American Continental Championships in Mexico City in early February.
That was the first time she ever raced in her USA kit. She wasted little time leaving an impression as Erickson and Godby teamed up to set a U.S. national record in the team sprint.
“It was kind of that reassurance that you’ve actually done it,” Erickson said. “You’re good enough to put (the USA kit) on and race with it. It was definitely one of those moments where you sit back and say, ‘Wow, you’re watching your dreams come true.’ ”
Worth the sacrifice
Now her sights are set on reaching her ultimate dream. Erickson knows she has a lot to improve on between now and 2016 if she’s going to make the Rio games.
After all, she is still relatively new to track cycling, but she is in a spot now where she feels she has the resources to make it happen.
Tyson believes so too. He has coached a lot of talented cyclists since he got his start in coaching as a 19-year-old in 1971. He knows what it takes to compete at the highest level, and he says Erickson has all the tools to get there.
“As a coach, you spend 20 years looking for that one athlete,” he said. “For some reason, I have been blessed with two of them at the same time.
“Missy and Maddy will be able to push each other every day for the next three and a half years. Our goal is not to have these women make the Olympic team, but to have them medal at the Olympics.”
Erickson is willing to give up almost everything to make that happen.
She doesn’t really know what it’s like to be a normal 22-year-old who goes out with her friends. She misses spending summers in Alexandria and being with her family on the holidays.
That’s all part of the process when chasing a dream as big as the Olympics. It’s a sacrifice she says will be worth it if everything goes according to plan over the next few years.
“It’s hard being away from family and it’s hard on them,” Erickson said. “But I’m hoping someday I can come home with an Olympic medal and celebrate with them.”