Kayla Hankins: National track champion, age 11

Before Kayla Hankins (Strada Racing Club) crashed out earlier this month at the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships in Madison, Wisc., she brought home gold and a national championship in track cycling.

The 11-year-old from Scottsdale set a new national record and took gold in the 500m time trial at USA Cycling Juniors Track National Championship in June.

Hankins’ time of 43.247 beat all but one of the boys in her same 11-12 age group; it was only .007 seconds off the male gold medalist’s time. She also took gold in the omnium and scratch race and bronze in another scratch race.

But it wasn’t the medals that recently won over the hearts of the Arizona cycling community; it was Hankins’ toughness post-crash that solicited well-wishes comments on Facebook.

“I’m more worried about your parents Kayla, because obviously you are a badass,” read one comment from ‘Eatmore Cheesecake.’ “Heal up soon.”

Going into road nationals a week after her track stint, Hankins was ready to vie for more podium finishes, but before she could cross the finish line in the road race, she was involved in a crash at 35 miles per hour, broke her jaw in three places, suffered three broken teeth, received stitches in her chin and above her eye and sustained bad road rash, according to her father, Eric Hankins.

“Banged up as bad as I have ever seen a cyclist and never shed a tear! Not once!” he wrote in an email to Clipped In AZ. “She even told the paramedics at the race that if it wasn’t for her jaw, she would have taken a support bike, finished the race, won the sprint, and dealt with stitches later. Huge bummer. Over 60 wins in the bike, no crashes, and this has to be her first.”

While Hankins began recovering and recuperating, she answered a few questions:

CIAZ: How did you get into racing your bike?

KH: Through triathlon. I did my first triathlon just after my seventh birthday and realized I loved the bike and was gifted at cycling.

CIAZ: What is your favorite thing about cycling?

KH: Speed! I love going fast.

CIAZ: How were you able to set a national record and win a national championship?

KH: A lot of hard work and sacrifice. It required most of my free time during the week on my bike. This includes riding in wind, rain, cold and blistering hot weather. My whole family, such as my grandparents, my mom and dad and my little brother Alex have given me lots of support. They drive me to practices and races. My little brother Alex never complains about waking up at 4 in the morning to go to my races. The two people who have helped me get here and worked with me since age 8 are Mike and Lisa Kolin from Strada Racing Team. They are my two coaches and have given me a ton of support and have taught me everything I know about racing and winning on a bike.  They have given almost all of their free time into training with me to get me to this level.

CIAZ: Was winning nationals a goal for you this year or did you decide to go to nationals as the season progressed?

KH: Winning nationals was a goal for me this year, and I made that a goal in the summer of 2013. All of the family members sat down and made the decision last summer to give a shot at nationals. Then we had my coaches to our home and discussed how we were going to train for this goal. I had a separate talk with my little brother about it because I knew it would take up most of his summer vacation this year and most of his weekends during the school year. He was excited to help me reach my goal.

CIAZ: Tell us about the record setting 500m.  What went through your mind during the race?

KH: During the race my mind was actually pretty much blank. Everything that I was supposed to do just kind of happened on its own. The announcer kept talking about how I train in a parking lot, but I didn’t hear that; I found out after the race because my dad told me. I only heard my coach, Lisa, every lap. Even though the crowds were yelling and my dad was screaming so loud I thought he was going to have a heart attack, the only person I heard during the race was Coach Lisa. The most interesting thing is that even though my coach was yelling specific things during the race, I didn’t know what she said, but hearing her voice was a reminder to me of everything we had gone over in training…where my hands should be, feet should be, breathing, position on the seat, floating and where and when to increase speed. It was like her voice prompted my brain to process every detail we had spent the past year discussing.

CIAZ: How do you feel knowing that your time was only .007 off the junior boys’ gold medalist at nationals?

KH: I was pretty excited. It proved to myself that girls can be just as fast or faster than boys.

CIAZ: What is your advice for anyone who wants to try track cycling?

KH: Pay attention and focus. You don’t have any brakes and it is a fixed gear, so when the wheels turn, so do your feet. Your first ride should be in an empty parking lot.

CIAZ: You took a pretty rough tumble (read: hard-core crash!) at road nationals. How are you feeling now, both physically and about your future race outlook? Judging by our Facebook post, you have quite a few fans out there. Anything you want to say to them?

KH: Physically I am OK except for my jaw hurting where the screws went in to wire it down. I want to get back to racing; I just might take a while before I want to do a pack-style race. I have a long ways to go with the recovery to even think about racing.  I can’t even ride on a trainer yet. To my fans, I want to say thank you for your support!

CIAZ: After the crash you wanted to get up and race, and you didn’t even cry. Where do you get your toughness?

KH: I have always been a pretty calm and quiet person. My dad has talked with me about the possibility of a crash and has told me if there is one, do not panic, so I didn’t. Over-reacting only makes the situation worse.  I wanted to get back in the race, but I kind of knew my jaw was broken. I don’t really think of myself as a tough person.

CIAZ: What is your favorite pre-race food?

KH: The night before a big race, I love macaroni and cheese. The morning of race day I eat a Luna Bar and peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

CIAZ: What is your favorite thing to do outside of cycling?

KH: It is impossible to pick one, but my favorite things to do are horseback riding (I compete in barrel racing), triathlons (I have won more than 40), water skiing and hiking.

CIAZ: What is your favorite subject in school?

KH: Science. Someday I want to go to medical school and become a doctor.

CIAZ: What are your future plans for cycling?

KH: I was so happy to hear they are finally doing a women’s race in the Tour de France. My ultimate goal would be to win the Tour and win an Olympic gold medal. At this point, I have no idea if I will focus in road or track racing. After my crash, I haven’t been able to even think about racing again. Since the crash, I am thinking more and more about focusing on triathlons.

CIAZ: Who is your favorite pro cyclist?

KH: My favorite retired pro-cyclist is Robbie Ventura. My favorite current pro-cyclist is Peter Sagan of Team Cannondale.

CIAZ: Anything to add or anyone to thank?

KH: Yes! I would like to thank my mom and dad and my amazing team Strada Racing. My coaches Mike and Lisa Kolin and most of all, my little brother Alex who also is a bike racer like me. Other people I want to thank for my cycling success are my mentors John Coyle, Marek Kotrly and Robbie Ventura. Lastly, I want to thank all the great people at Faster Cycling Performance Center.