Perseverance, determination, drive — Just a handful of the traits possessed by elite athletes — necessary for success and even more essential for struggle.
There are no better words to describe the 18-year-old track star, Kirsten Williams (Twenty16 Professional Cycling). She won omnium and individual pursuit titles at this year’s USA Cycling junior track nationals in Carson, Calif., an incredible feat for any young athlete. But Williams’ success was more than a dream come true. Her national championship title was won not just for her, but for her late father.
Victor Williams was the victim of a tragic accident at the 7-Eleven Velodrome in Colorado Springs just two weeks prior to junior track nationals. A seasoned track racer and president of the Natural Grocers amateur team, passion for track racing pulsed through his veins — and while he may be gone, this passion carries on with his daughter.
Not only did Williams display an unbelievable amount of determination to win last weekend’s junior national championships, she overcame a nearly incomprehensible tragedy. She was present at the track when her father’s accident occurred. Instead of backing away with fear, Williams acknowledged the presence of her father on that very track and continued to race. “Whenever I ride by the corner where he crashed I feel like he is cheering for me so that is actually comforting,” she said. “I was a little nervous to ride on the track for the first time, but knowing he died doing what he loved also helped me to overcome any fear and just enjoy the track because that’s what I love too.”
Sweeping through that corner, feeling her father’s presence became the driving force for Williams’ incredible performance at nationals.
“I wanted to honor him and be able to live on his legacy of strength and tenacity.” Possessing such tenacious qualities herself, Williams overcame the understandable apprehension she experienced the week before track nationals.
Race with heart. That’s the simple, yet easier said than done, tactic that brought Williams to the podium. “I took that advice and raced my heart out at nationals, racing aggressively and lapping the field in the omnium points race,” she said.
The 2014 national championships proved Kirsten Williams’ amazing strength — there’s no doubt about that. But, by no means is this a quirk brought on by a powerful reaction to her father’s death.
“I have always been pretty competitive and determined,” Williams told VeloNews. “I was actually born two months early, so I had some muscular troubles, but I went through a lot of physical and occupational therapy, although they said I would always have a weak muscle mass.” Needless to say, Williams proved doctors wrong. Despite the physical difficulties sustained from birth, Williams has risen to the top in her sport.
Williams’ disposition is humble — no doubt she possesses an athletic gift. Perhaps this mentality is due to influential mentors who supported her development in addition to her father: coaches Neal Henderson, Mark Tyson, and Andy Sparks. Her teammate, Sarah Tyson, has also been enormously influential.
The dream to win junior nationals and to attend junior worlds was always on the forefront of Williams’ mind. With the support of her father and others, and her deep faith, that dream became reality.
Williams continues to establish big goals for herself, mindful of her dad’s advice: “Strive for excellence in all things, not mediocrity.” She hopes to medal at junior worlds in Korea this August, and in the big picture, she has the Olympics on the brain. “It would be great to go to Rio 2016, but that is a big gap to bridge in two years,” she said. “I’m going to play it by ear and see how things go. I am definitely aiming for Tokyo 2020, though.”