Spring 2011

IU Women: Turn Left and Pedal as Fast as You Can

 

Lee Ann Terhune, Bri Kovak and Jill McGinnis with Bicycle
Lee Ann Terhune, Bri Kovak and Jill McGinnis

If you ask Lee Ann (Guzek) Terhune (BA’88), a former rider and Women's Little 500 pioneer, there is no simple description of the Little 500. “Would so many people come back each year if it were just a race?” she insists.

The Little 500 is an unequaled intramural event, a rich tradition, a fundraiser for scholarships for working students, a character-builder, and a lot of fun. Lee Ann knew all that well before there was a women's race. It’s why she wanted to ride in the Little 500.

For men, the tradition started in 1951, with women relegated to the sidelines. Beginning in 1955, women got to race—on tricycles.

“When I was a kid, I remember women from IU coming to our door asking if we had a tricycle,” recalls Lee Ann. “Meanwhile, my brother and I were holding bike races on our old Schwinns. I didn’t want to ride a tricycle.”

And she was not alone. By the 1980s, women were expressing a growing interest in racing bicycles. The IU Cycling Club was formed, which encouraged women to take up the sport. The IU Student Foundation devised its Little 500 Series events, in part to develop women’s cycling skills. Those races were popular, but they were not the Little 500.

In 1987, Lee Ann Terhune was a junior at IU. She, Martha Mary Hinkamp Gillum (BA’89), Kathy Cleary (BS’87), and Darci Feick (BA’88) decided to form the Kappa Alpha Theta team and attempt to qualify for the men’s race. “I was scared out of my mind,” recalls Terhune. “But if we could do this, we thought we could really make a difference.”

It took three attempts, but their time was fast enough to be posted on the qualifying board. “You’d have thought from the reaction in the stadium that we had qualified for the race. A lot of people—men included—were pulling for us. But our time was eventually bumped off,” recalls Terhune.

At the men’s race that year, a pair of independent riders surveyed the audience: Would they support a women’s race? The answer was overwhelmingly yes. So, in 1988 the Women’s Little 500 was born. Terhune and her Thetas started in the pole position, but finished a close second to a fast Willkie Sprint team.

In the years since, the competition has grown. Jill McGinnis (BS’00) coaches the Delta Zetas, the team she rode for throughout her years at IU. She helped her team move from qualifying in the 10th row in 1998 to qualifying first in the 2000 race. “More and more teams are training all year round now, compared to 10 years ago,” notes Jill. “I tell rookies that studies come first, but this is a big priority.”

Bri Kovac (BS’04, JD’07) cobbled a team together on a whim to represent Teter dormitory in 2001. “We did what we could,” she admits. The next year, her team got serious. In her senior year, they came in second. “We were painfully close,” she winces.

Both Bri and Jill declare that they and all women riders owe Lee Ann and the other women who insisted they, too, could ride. “When it’s January and you’re tired and April feels far, far away and you want to quit, you remember what these women did, and that keeps you trucking,” says Bri.

IU Student Foundation Logo

Bri and Jill will tell you that nothing compares to that moment when you first come onto the track. The fans, the decorations, the whole atmosphere contributes to the Women’s Little 500. “You can feel the excitement physically throughout your body,” notes Jill. “It can be shocking.”

That part hasn’t changed over the years. Back in 1987, Lee Ann and her team were huddled together in a room by themselves after their second failed attempt, trying to come up with a way to better their qualifying run. When they came back out, the crowd went nuts.

“You could hear this roar," she recalls. "It brought tears to my eyes. After that, I just couldn’t ride slow.”

And she didn’t. In fact, her lap time was the fifth fastest that day.

For more information, contact Pamela Loebig, IUSF assistant director/Little 500 race coordinator, at 812-855-1937 or .

« previous story | next story »