In her own words, McKenna McKee
26 July 2021
Where do I even begin? Track nationals this year was truly one I will never forget.
Due to covid-19, nationals in 2020 were canceled along with all the racing. At the beginning of 2020, I lost my velodrome. This was very hard to grasp over because it was my home. The community became my family and the track became my life. Instead of thinking of the loss of my track as the end of my journey, I thought of it as a new chapter. A chance to learn how to adapt to change faster than I ever have before.
Soon enough, my coach and I started doing a lot more gym work and decided to turn our perspective to making small adjustments that make all the difference in the world. We started riding our track bikes on 400m running tracks and up these really steep hills as the equivalent to having a velodrome to train on. I also started training on other tracks down the west coast in California. This was an awesome experience because I had the opportunity to work and train with other athletes and coaches. In addition, I also had the privilege to train on different velodromes. The same size as the one at nationals which is about a 333m track. Aside from all that, covid allowed me to really analyze things a lot better than I think I did before covid. My mental health got a lot stronger as well as my passion for cycling. I also learned more about managing my diabetes in sport.
Track nationals this year was by far the best racing experience I’ve ever had. It was not exactly what I had in mind for experience but we all start from somewhere. The first day of nationals started on July 15th. My first race was sprint qualifying. Right away I was feeling extremely anxious because after a year and a half of zero racing, no track and countless hours of training it was finally showtime again. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the time I was shooting for in qualifiers. I placed 7th overall which meant all of my sprint rides were going to be really hard. After fighting my way back into the medal rides, my anxiety started to calm down. The next thing I knew I was in the ride for Gold. It was a hard-fought battle and I can honestly say I am really happy with my ride and getting the silver.
The next day was the keirin ride. This race is my favorite race ever. It starts out with six riders drawing for positions behind the motorcycle. The race is usually 6 laps but since the track is bigger in Trexlertown Pennsylvania, the race is only 5 laps and the motorcycle pulls off with three laps to go. I drew a 1 which meant I was behind the motor. The motor pulled off and a girl came in front of me. One lap to go I was starting to get impatient. The race was now up to 30-35k an hour. All I remember is that my front wheel clipped the back of the wheel of the girl in front of me. Then I was flying in the air and my bike was too. Once I hit the ground I somehow fell onto my stomach and chin. Then it was a full on domino effect. Three other girls ran me over and one of them knocked my helmet right off my head! As I was sliding down the track everything was in slow motion. Soon, the EMTs arrived and I just remember hearing the other girls screaming and crying, but I was frozen. All I can recall thinking was, I hope my bike isn’t broken. I didn’t want to be remembered as the type 1 diabetic who crashed her bike. I wanted to be remembered as the one who got back up. Once I was cleared to race again, I asked my coach if my bike was ok. He said yes. I replied, “get my bike ready, I’m not going out like that!” They redid our ride and I remember getting on my bike, looking at my knee covered in blood, road rash everywhere, torn skinsuit and socks just thinking how much I needed to race my bike to that finish line. The race was kind of a blur but I was happy to walk away from that race with no broken bones, no concussion and a silver medal! I was definitely sore after that ride and that night wasn’t exactly thrilling. Having to scrub wounds is not a one-person job. I just knew I wanted to show people what’s possible even with type one diabetes. So the next day I wanted to give my all.
Saturday was the 500m tt. I was feeling ok considering my condition and my blood sugars were doing well. I was feeling good, feeling good, then I was off. My start wasn’t as fast as it normally is and then all of a sudden I felt like I was riding my bike backwards in the race. We all know when it feels like that in a race it often isn’t a good sign. Remarkably, I still managed to get a bronze medal.
Sunday was the team sprint. I raced the Junior team sprint and the Elite women’s team sprint. I remember telling myself that everything was going to be ok and that I was feeling ok as well. Even when I wasn’t because that’s the cool thing about the mind, we can always trick ourselves. The biggest thing for me going into Sunday was that I wasn’t going to let my team(s) down no matter what or how I was feeling because that’s what good teammates do for their team. The junior women’s team sprint was first. The team sprint consists of three riders who all ride a lap each and pull off in time to let the others get through their lap. For both teams I was the starting leg. My job in both races was to get my teammates up to speed as quickly as possible as fast as I could. The second person holds that speed and then ramps it up even more so. The third person’s job is to maintain that pace and bring in that speed all the way to the finish line. It was a hard-fought battle with a lot of variables to work out but I somehow was able to turn off the pain switch and find a new threshold level. I’m so proud I had the opportunity to work with these women and set two track records. Two national titles and double the impact to those living with diabetes. It was surreal to race with Mandy [Marquardt] and race for what we believe in. Inspire, educate and empower everyone living with diabetes and represent Team Novo Nordisk. The team that never gives up and the team that has taught me to always dream big.
Thank you all so much for all the support. It means the world to race in the Team Novo Nordisk kit. This team really does have a legacy. It amazes me how many people and young kids come up to us and just simply share their stories. The biggest takeaway I’ve learned from Nationals is that our character matters and so does the impact we leave for others.
Excited to say I’m still here in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania racing some UCI events at the velodrome with Mandy. Mandy has been generous enough to let me stay with her. It’s been an awesome learning experience for me and it’s so cool to have a fellow teammate who’s also a female cyclist living and racing with type 1 diabetes.
I look forward to writing another race report in the next couple of weeks to let you know how the U23 and Elite women’s races go!