10-year-old Gresham girl reaches national cycling race
Rolland Hayden brought his daughter Whitney Hayden to the Portland International Speedway to participate in a push bike race; he had no idea that she would become a nationally ranked cyclist only two years later.
"When we first got started, she showed a lot of promise, but we didn't think much of it," Rolland said. "But she really got into it when we took her to do even more races."
A push bike doesn't have pedals like a conventional bicycle. The young riders sit on the bike and propel themselves forward with their feet and legs in a running motion.
Whitney started racing in 2019 when she was 8 years old. Although it started as a fun pastime, she soon learned she had a knack for it. But more importantly she liked winning.
"When I was doing my first kiddy races, I would see people on TV winning and then I thought, 'well I could do that,'" Whitney said. "Then when I was racing, I thought that I could really win this."
Whitney joined an amateur cycling team and started competing in both cyclocross and mountain bike races. Although she was only 10 years old, Whitney was competing against 11-13-year-olds in races put on by the Oregon Bike Racing Association.
Whitney's skill on a bike was on full display when she won the state championship for her age category in both cyclocross and mountain biking.
To the surprise of her and her family, Whitney discovered she was one of the top-ranked cyclist in the nation and was invited to compete in the 2021 Cyclocross National Championships in Chicago. Although Whitney was excited about the new challenge, the talent of the competition would be stronger than anything she was used to Oregon. "We honestly didn't know how she would do," Rolland said. Whitney's competition would be stiff, but she would be racing with the full support from her fellow classmates, staff and teacher at East Gresham Elementary School.
Before Whitney was set to head to Chicago, the school's principal made an announcement during lunch highlighting Whitney's accomplishment and wishing her luck in the competition, which garnered a loud cheer from her classmates.
Teachers also made T-shirts that said "Team Whitney" in the front to show their support. They gave one to Whitney which had the signatures of the entire fifth grade class.
"My teacher told me, 'The fifth grade has your back,'" Whitney said. "It all me made me feel so happy."
As Whitney made her way to the starting line for the Women's Junior 11-12-year-old race, pressure started to get to Whitney.
"I was pretty nervous, and at the beginning I didn't even know where I was going," Whitney said.
Her initial confusion didn't seem to impact her performance as she led the pack for the early part of the race.
Her early lead would diminish as the other talented cyclist from around the country managed to maneuver past Whitney.
"When we saw the other girls come in, it was evident that there was talent from all over the country here," Rolland said, remembering how the race unfolded.
"Around the seventh loop she was down to tenth place, which she wasn't used to," Rolland said. "But you could see she was determined."
That determination pushed Whitney to the top of the group, where she ended up taking fourth place.
Although she didn't get the top spot, Whitney said she is more determined than ever after her first national race. She plans on entering more cycling competitions including some mountain bike and road cycling races.
"Now that I know the completion is a lot bigger than I thought, we have been training hard and I feel like I am going to do well," Whitney said.
As much as the competitive nature of cycling keeps Whitney motivated, she also believes that riding a bike can give people so much more than just the thrill of racing.
"You feel a sense of accomplishment after a nice bike ride," Whitney said. "It doesn't have to be competition all the time; you can just ride and see the all the sites."
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