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Pez Bookshelf: Willkie Dash – PezCycling Information

In 1951, Bloomington, Indiana, noticed the primary operating of the Little 500, a really uncommon bicycle race modelled on the Indianapolis 500 automobile race, and which has been a fixture of Indiana College’s self-proclaimed “World’s Best Faculty Weekend” ever since. In 1979 the Little 500 obtained a lot wider consideration because the dramatic centrepiece within the Oscar-winning movie “Breaking Away” and now a brand new e book tells the story of the primary girls’s version of the race. This befell in 1988 in a world acquainted to us but eliminated in some ways from our current.

Willkie Sprint

Not like “Breaking Away,” a fictionalized coming-of-age story about 4 boys, “Willkie Dash” is the true story of how 5 girls and their male coach set about getting into and competing in that first girls’s race on the College’s Invoice Anderson Stadium. However this entertaining and affectionately written e book is about far more as an autobiographical account of writer Kerry Hellmuth’s personal coming of age as an eighteen 12 months outdated beginning school. It’s about working with folks of various backgrounds, pursuits and expertise. It’s concerning the American school expertise, tutorial and social, in addition to the altering attitudes in the direction of girls, whether or not in sports activities or the higher world. “Willkie Dash” could also be non-fiction however shares most of the attributes of “Breaking Away” in addition to setting. It about younger folks discovering their means in life, about friendships and household, and about team-building and accomplishment.


The Little 500 had been solely open to male undergraduates however by the mid-Nineteen Eighties there was a rising recognition that ladies needs to be included. There had actually been two sorts of races for them established, each of which appear embarrassing to us in hindsight. Within the Little Little 500, sorority ladies did an egg-and-spoon race whereas on bikes, having to switch the egg to teammates underway, whereas the Mini 500 noticed them race on large tricycles. This latter occasion looks as if the type of dopey enjoyable you’d see at Freshman Week and in reality turned so widespread that males finally have been accepted for it as nicely. Nevertheless, the Little 500, a massively widespread competitors, noticed no feminine participation because the few girls’s groups which tried to qualify (solely the highest 33 groups are allowed in) have been unsuccessful. Then in 1987 a staff from the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority seemed like they might be included however in the end got here thirty seventh, retaining them out of the boys’s subject however setting in movement the impetus to launch a girls’s Little 500 the following 12 months.


For Kerry Hellmuth, arriving from her dwelling in Wisconsin, 1988 marked the beginning of her school life, perfect timing, because it turned out, not just for taking a variety of programs that might open a brand new world but in addition to take part in that first girls’s Little 500. She moved into the Willkie Corridor scholar residence and there was enticed to a gathering with the promise of free pizza, about getting residence illustration on the Little 500. As in any exercise required dedication, these initially enthusiastic fade away however in the end there was a bunch of 5 riders, together with Kevin, performing as coach for each the ladies’s and males’s groups. Apparently, it was the ladies who confirmed higher dedication and would go on, with matching t-shirts, to grow to be a strong staff underneath the title that first 12 months of Willkie Dash.

Utterly unrelated notice: The writer doesn’t point out that the residence was named for a exceptional Indiana politician, Wendell Willkie, the Republican Presidential candidate in 1940, who ran underneath the slogan “Win with Willkie!,” which might have been good for the staff as nicely.


For these of us who didn’t attend an American college, “Willkie Dash” presents up a pleasant portrait of campus life. Ms. Hellmuth writes of the sturdy impression that the professors within the classroom made on her, of assembly up together with her first boyfriend, of events, and tenting to see the celebs close to the not-fictionally named Gnaw Bone, Indiana. Contemplating occasions occurred some 35 years earlier than the e book was written, her prose reveals a superb reminiscence for element but in addition appreciable notion.

However the Little 500 is the core of the e book. The younger girls, who’re athletic to a point however not essentially as cyclists, prepare with nice dedication and we be taught that you simply simply don’t present as much as race the Little 500 however that there’s a collection of preparatory occasions, together with a Staff Pursuit, Elimination Race and a Staff Time Trial, which had them utilizing their very own highway bikes, so are extra just like the type of bike races we all know.


Nevertheless, the Little 500 itself is kind of completely different from these. It’s a relay occasion by which every 4 particular person staff is issued a pair of similar single pace coaster brake bicycles with flat pedals and no extra equipment. For the boys’s race, there are 200 circuits of 1 / 4 mile flat cinder monitor, so 50 miles, whereas the ladies full 100 circuits, so 40 miles. As a relay, it’s required that groups should change riders no less than ten instances for the boys and 5 for the ladies. A quick and environment friendly bike change is essential to success and Ms. Hellmuth’s account of how to do that is each entertaining and daunting. In a race impressed by the Indy 500, there are some odd options, comparable to the usage of the identical flags utilized in auto racing. For instance, a crimson flag requires all riders to cease the place they’re and a yellow one (which seems as a defining second within the e book) means all riders maintain their positions relative to the rider in entrance of them. And there’s a checkered flag on the finish, after all! There are different guidelines, comparable to all riders having to be undergraduates at Indiana College, which might have prevented the heroes from “Breaking Away” from taking part, however the title of their staff, the Cutters, has been adopted by essentially the most profitable males’s staff of the Little 500, having scored 15 wins within the occasion’s 72 12 months historical past.

Via their willpower and dedication, the Willkie Dash staff of freshman involves the Little 500 in glorious kind and the account of the particular race, held in entrance of 15,000 spectators, makes thrilling studying within the arms of the writer. Undoubtedly a good distance from the egg-and-spoon race, with the contributors using with tactical sense and a few aggression—the Little 500 is a race famous for crashes. The subsequent version will happen on April 19, 2024 for the ladies and the day after for the boys’s occasion.


The writer went on to compete within the Little 500 in following years, with Willkie Dash getting renamed as staff members moved from the residence and even from the college and new riders got here in. She subsequently went on to an adventurous life, together with some years spent as an expert racer, together with participation in occasions in Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, North America, and even the forerunner of right this moment’s Tour de France Femmes, the Grand Boucle Féminine Internationale in 2000. Like Dave Stohler in “Breaking Away,” her coronary heart has been stolen by Italy.


Early on in her e book, Kerry Hellmuth describes the work of Amelia Bloomer and the Rational Costume Society as girls started to say themselves as people, in society in addition to with the ability to take part in that late nineteenth Century craze of using a bicycle. It appears absurd to us now that it was solely in 1984 that ladies competed in biking occasions on the Olympics. The false daybreak of girls’s professional biking 4 many years in the past has solely not too long ago been displaced by a brand new calendar of occasions and acceptance and promotion of girls’s racing on the highest stage in biking’s European heartland.

Wilkie Sprint
The Willkie Dash staff reunited at Indiana College in April 2023 as Grand Marshals for the Little 500, 35 years after their victory

In April 2023 Kerry Hellmuth and her Staff Willkie Dash colleagues have been invited again to Bloomington to function grand marshals and visitors of honour on the operating of the Little 500. Their lives have been positively formed by their collegiate expertise and “Willkie Dash” is a superb memoir. The story has sufficient resonance that over time no fewer than three approaches have been made about turning it into a movie and we met but see “Willkie Dash” come alive on display screen, maybe even as memorably because it has in print if fortune favours us.

Kerry Hellmuth

“Willkie Dash: A Story of Friendship, Love and Successful the First Ladies’s Little 500 Race” by Kerry Hellmuth
214 pp., illustrated, out there in hardback, paperback and e-book editions
Indiana College Press, Bloomington

The e book will probably be launched on April 1, 2024 and is obtainable right here (to be adopted by the same old on-line sources):

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