London calling: DL's Jordan Windel has sights set on 2012 Olympic bid
When the 2012 Olympics get underway in London, England three years from now, Detroit Lakes' Jordan Windel is hoping he will be among the contingent of U.S. athletes filing into the Olympic stadium for opening ceremonies.
Windel, 18, is working hard to qualify for the Olympic BMX racing team and hopes that his skills will reach their peak in time for the U.S. Olympic Trial qualifying event` in Chula Vista, Calif., which will take place sometime in late 2011 or early 2012.
"That one will be my make or break race," he said.
But between now and then, Windel will be spending as much time as possible in the weight room and on the bike track, training for the next race on the BMX pro circuit.
Though he will be training hard, Windel doesn't plan to neglect his studies. In fact, the recent high school graduate will be moving to California this fall to enroll at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif.
He plans to spend the next two years at the community college earning credits toward a psychology major, before planning on transferring to the University of California-Irvine to complete the final two years of his bachelor's degree. By starting off at a two-year school, Windel discovered he could save some money on tuition.
But while his studies are important, Windel admits that for the next few years, earning that Olympic qualifying berth will be his main priority.
After all, he currently holds the distinction of being the youngest BMX pro racer in the U.S. -- having turned pro at the age of 16. Windel said he feels that by the time the Olympic trials come around, he will be "the perfect age" -- not too old, not too green.
Of course, that's assuming he can avoid serious injury -- something that Windel hasn't always managed to do in the past.
"Last summer, I dislocated my (left) knee three times," he said. "I avoided surgery, but I had to wear a brace all the time."
It was a hard lesson for Windel to learn that he wasn't invincible.
"It took a lot out of me... I avoided weight training on my legs for over a year," he said. "It took a while to get back into the flow this year, but I did it."
Still, his string of bad luck continued at nationals two weeks ago, when he went off the track and landed in the bushes.
"It ruined my race, but another guy wiped out, so I beat him," Windel said, adding that he finished sixth overall.
Though Windel is currently ranked 11th among about 190 pro BMX racers in the U.S, he said he has room to improve. "I want to be in the top 10, but my bad luck in the big races catches up to me," he said.
He has plenty of time to make up lost ground this season, with four more National races and one Grand National event still ahead.
The Grand Nationals, worth triple points to the participating racers, take place over Thanksgiving weekend in Tulsa, Okla.
"I never get to eat turkey with my family," Windel joked. "I'm always there (instead)."
In the past, his family has quite often made the trip with him. Younger brother Jake, 16, used to race competitively as well, and his parents used to accompany them to all the racing events.
But even though he was ranked No. 4 in the U.S. at one time, Jake didn't have the urge to take it as far as his older brother.
"He (Jake) just stopped," Windel said. "I think he just needed some time off. He loves the sport, he just doesn't love the pressure (of competition)."
It's not Jordan's favorite part of the sport either.
"I get stressed out," he admitted. "It really takes a toll on you, especially when people are expecting you to do good."
Trophies are fun
When Windel started racing 10 years ago, the pressure wasn't nearly as intense.
"My cousin Nate did it before I got involved," he recalled. "One day he told me to come down to the track and bring a bike."
Windel took third place in his very first race -- taking home a small trophy.
"That made my life at that point," Windel said, and laughed. Suddenly, he was hooked.
"I wasn't very good, but I still liked it," he said. "I beat one person and I was pumped.
"I found something I could get a trophy from every week, and that's what I wanted."
In fact, Windel won five first-place trophies in his first year of competition. "I didn't really expect that to happen," he said.
"Next year, I turned expert -- the highest ranking in amateur BMX," he said. "From there, I went from winning local races to state championship races."
Windel won his first national competition when he was 11 years old.
"That kind of opened my eyes," he said, noting that it was the turning point when he realized he might actually have a better-than-average talent for the sport.
Five years later, at the age of 16, Windel turned pro. At the time, he was the youngest racer to do so in the history of BMX.
"I'm still the youngest one in the U.S.," he said -- though there is now one Australian pro who is a year younger.
In all, Windel has now spent more than half of his life as a BMX racer.
"I didn't ever think I'd come this far," he said.
Though he declined to say exactly how much money he's made as a pro racer, Windel admitted he's made "a decent amount -- more than I ever thought I could from pedaling a bike."
Now, however, it's not prize money that Windel has his sights on -- it's an Olympic medal.
Training starts now
Though the next Olympics are three years away, Windel is already focused on training for it.
"My dad (Dean, who currently lives in Rapid City, S.D.) will come to California with me and spend a lot of time helping me with training," Windel said. Jordan's mother, Brenda, and brother Jake will continue living in Detroit Lakes.
"He (Dean) believes I can do it -- he believes in it more than I do," Windel added. "He's positive I'm going."
Though Windel isn't quite as convinced, he is quite confident of his abilities as a racer.
"You can't have low confidence and expect to do good," he said. "It really is a mental sport as much as a physical one.
Windel's next competition is this Sunday in St. Cloud and as always, he will step out on that track expecting to come home with another first-place trophy.
"Confidence is key with BMX," he said.
"I don't think there's really been a race where I've gone up to the starting hill not knowing that I could win it, or what I needed to do to win it."