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Why the Vic Williams Memorial Grand Prix will live on

July 28, 2015
Kirsten Williams leads a silent lap at the 7-Eleven Olympic Training Center Velodrome  in honor of her father, Vic Willaims

Kirsten Williams leads a silent lap at the 7-Eleven Olympic Training Center Velodrome in honor of her father, Vic Willaims

Track cyclists pose in a balance dance over their bikes – until the official drops the flag to start a race. Harnessing all of their bodily strength, they power through the initial pedal revolutions slowly, as if they’re churning through a trough of caramel.

Sweat rises almost immediately, especially at an outdoor track like the 7-Eleven Olympic Training Center Velodrome in Colorado Springs on a sunny summer day.

Naturally those salty drops evaporate after splashing onto the track surface. But imagine they seep into crevices in the concrete and leave behind slivers of souls, making athletes like Vic Williams forever part of that oval facing the sky.

In mid-June last year Williams left much more behind there; he lost his life in an accident on the bike. A new multi-day track event named after Williams took place at that velodrome two weeks ago.

At least two other memorial races occur on the Front Range in Colorado: the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb and Fred Prindle Memorial City Park Criterium. They’ve become fixtures in the cycling community; the first has run for 50 years and the second for 44.

There’s every chance the Vic Williams Memorial Grand Prix will carry on for many years as well.

Memorial events endure because they remember special people. We remember those athletes for their physical presence, athletic qualities, and demeanor as competitors, friends, and family members. We remember them too for the places of respect they held and contributions they made to the cycling communities that surrounded them.

Riders and their handlers roll to a keirin start

Riders and their handlers roll to a keirin start

Like all bike races, the new one named after Williams happened because many people came together to pull it off. Races wouldn’t exist without promoters and course volunteers and riders. Coaches, training companions, and family help racers prepare to compete. Then there’s the spectators, people that look after facilities like the 7-Eleven velodrome, sponsors, and benefactors who lend equipment like barriers and the ubiquitous orange cones.

Williams promoted races. He ran teams. He was a leader, a member of the board of directors for the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado and the Colorado Velodrome Association. He coached juniors. With his wife he raised a young woman and track star for today and the future, his daughter Kirsten.

Eighteen year-old Kirsten returned to the velodrome within days of her father’s passing. Then only two weeks later she made the journey to California and won two U.S. junior national track championships.

A friend was spot on when he wrote about Williams’ appetite for learning and how he passed that trait onto his daughter. Bruce Hecht wrote this about Kirsten while remembering her dad: “As she has moved to the top of her cycling she is just like her father, always knowing she has one mouth and two ears for a reason. She will absorb anything of value, and quickly push out what she knows is wrong.”

Kirsten Williams takes off for the individual pursuit bronze medal round at the Vic Williams Memorial Grand Prix

Kirsten Williams takes off for the individual pursuit bronze medal round at the Vic Williams Memorial Grand Prix

At the Colorado Springs race in memory of her father, Kirsten validated Hecht’s observation. She raced the individual women’s pursuit and qualified for the bronze medal final. In that round she clocked consistent laps which ultimately shaved two seconds off her time because she had banked strength for the last laps. She was trying something new, she said. Previously she’d zoom off too hard in the opening laps.

As a junior cyclist Kirsten supplied her talent and positive spirit to the track community, her TWENTY16 Junior Development Team, and the local Colorado racing scene. She supported and encouraged other young riders.

Kirsten’s courage and persistence in coping with deep adversity has become a model in the cycling community she and her father shared and beyond. Now a member of the elite ranks, in August she expects to contest the individual and team pursuit at the U.S. elite national track championships.

On day two of the Vic Williams Memorial Grand Prix, shadows lengthened over the edge of the velodrome railing as the second session of racing paused for a lap of silence in honor of Williams. Kirsten led 50-plus riders around the oval, her head held high. Her mother played a role too; she draped medals over the top three riders in the completed events.

It must have required all of their strength to manage the painful reminder of a missing devoted father and husband.

The next day, Kirsten said, she and her mom were okay. “It actually was really good and helpful I think,” Kirsten said, “to feel the love and support of everyone still remembering him.”

Kirsten Williams in the individual pursuit qualifying round

Kirsten Williams in the individual pursuit qualifying round

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