Issaquah High School graduate Jennie Reed celebrates Olympic cycling medal
September 18, 2012
By Matt Carstens
As Olympic silver medalist and Issaquah High School grad Jennie Reed packs up her West Seattle home in preparation for a move back to the Eastside, she said she realizes moving will be a bit harder than she expected.
“We’re having a hard time finding a place to rent,” she said. “I don’t think it’ll happen in a day, like I expected.”
She said she also didn’t expect that she’d have any interest in track cycling … but here she is.
Can we Rollerblade here?
Growing up on east Lake Sammamish, Reed and a friend Rollerbladed the 5-mile path down to Marymoor Park and stumbled upon the velodrome. They asked the local coach if they could Rollerblade around the track.
“Well, no,” he said. “But you can get on a bike.”
Reed had some experience mountain biking and decided to give the track a try.
“Once I took the track class, I was hooked,” Reed said. “I was never an athlete with the super endurance, but I was always powerful and fast.”
That power and speed made her a natural track cyclist. She hopped on the Gregg’s Cycle club team, which taught her all the disciplines of cycling, including road and track.
“It was pretty seamless once I got into it because there were so many people that were willing to teach me how to race,” Reed said. “When I first started out I had no idea if I was even going to do it very long, but it just so happened that that summer the Junior Nationals were in Seattle.”
‘How many laps is this one?’
So with one of the biggest amateur races in the country right around the corner, Reed was thrown into the “Track Cycling 101” abbreviated, expedited crash course. Unfortunately for Reed, they didn’t let her take a cheat sheet onto the track.
Reed lined up next to her teammate Julie Gregg in one of the races. Her mind went blank. She couldn’t quite remember which race they were doing. She leaned over to Gregg and asked, “How many laps is this one?”
Despite the nerves and rookie jitters, Reed was set to take on Ryan Kelly in the individual pursuit. Kelly was the defending national champion, which was more than a little intimidating for Reed.
Before the race, Reed bumped into Kelly on the way to the restroom and introduced herself.
“Hey, are you Ryan Kelly?” Reed asked.
“Yeah,” Kelly answered.
On the Web
Find more local coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics from Issaquah and London at http://bit.ly/OAHc7X.
“Please don’t lap me,” Reed said.
The race started and Reed busted out of the gate full-bore. Going full gas with no pacing, after two laps she was dead tired.
“I thought I was going to throw up,” Reed said.
But she kept riding. Reed heard the roar of the crowd and her heart dropped like it had turned to cement. Kelly must have passed her. Little did she know that had not happened at all.
The cheers were for her.
Reed was Junior National Champion. She won the individual pursuit, along with the match sprint that year.
‘Baby, you sprinter’
After settling into the dorms as a freshman at the University of Washington, Reed received a phone call.
“Jenny, I think you have talent, baby,” the man said with a deep, thick, intimidating Polish accent.
The man on the other end was United States national cycling coach Andrzej Bek.
“I was like what is this guy talking about?” Reed said.
Bek wasn’t going to give up easy.
“Baby, you sprinter,” he said.
Reed was confused. All the races she had trained on in Seattle were pursuit races, which are much more focused on endurance than the all-out bursting style of sprint racing.
“When he said he thought I’m a sprinter I was like, I don’t know if he’s ever seen me race, I don’t know that I am,” Reed said. “Then I got off the phone and said why not? I can always go back to school at any point in my life, this might be an opportunity that I never get. When I made the decision it wasn’t easy, I thought it was pretty mandatory to go to college. But when I decided to give it a go I thought if it doesn’t work out I’ll come back.”
Needless to say, it worked out.
Coming full circle
After going on to become a world champion sprint cyclist and participating in two Olympiads, Reed was ready to hang up the bike in the metaphorical garage and retire. When she was invited to be part of the team pursuit for the 2012 games, she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“What I used to do is kind of equivalent to running the 200-meter in track in field,” Reed said. “What I changed to is probably the equivalent of running the 1,500-meter. It was a huge change in the approach to training and even the mentality of the race and training. No other female has done that that I’m aware of.”
Yet despite the departure from sprinting, it was a homecoming of sorts. The team pursuit is very similar to the individual pursuit event she won as a 17-year-old novice all those years ago.
“I ended up going and focusing on sprint, and it’s funny that it ends up coming back to the pursuit,” she said.
The biggest difference for Reed about London compared to her previous two Olympiads in Beijing and Athens, Greece, was the interest that Great Britain has in track cycling.
“It was the coveted ticket to have,” Reed said. “They put a lot of money into it. They have a few other sports that they do OK in, but track cycling is where those guys are national heroes.
“It was cool going in because I’d never experienced that before. There was a lot more media, a lot more attention on it. You run into people, fans, and all of a sudden people know exactly what you’re talking about.”
Reed was relieved to not have to explain her sport to every passerby that only knew about Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France. The difference was also felt inside the sold out velodrome.
“When we walked in the stadium that first day for qualifying, it was electric, beyond any noise I have ever heard,” she said. “I thought ‘OK it’s going to calm down,’ but it didn’t.
“It was like that the whole entire warm up. I really had a hard time focusing for a while. I had my headphones in blasting the music just to hear my headphones over the crowd. But at the same time I love that, I feed off of that. That was just awesome energy.”
With an Olympic silver medal added to her collection, Reed doesn’t know when she’ll ride again. Rio is a long way off. As she continues to pack up her house and move back to Kirkland she hopes to turn a page in her life. Who knows, maybe she’ll take up Rollerblading.