A local we can cheer for

Shelley Olds bikes down Bolsa Road between Gilroy and Hollister

Even after enduring a bad bicycle crash in March that left Shelley Olds with a broken wrist, the Gilroy cyclist may bring home a gold medal in the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

Olds, 31, is one of four women selected to represent the United States road cycling team in the Olympics – and is the first-ever Olympian from Gilroy, according to Connie Rogers of the Gilroy Historical Society.

“She has the heart of a champion – the fact that she can get back up on the back up after a crash like that is something I could never do,” said Pat Dorrell, Olds’ mother.

Dorrell, 62, moved to Gilroy in 2000 while Olds was in college in Virginia. When Olds finished school, she moved to Los Gatos, but kept Gilroy as her home base.

A soccer player at Roanoke College, Olds switched to cycling after injuring her legs in 2005, and after meeting a group of people who were avid cyclists in the South Valley – has been hard-core cycling ever since.

“She took to it like fish to water, and started winning races right away,” Dorrell said.

When her dream of being selected to the Olympics became a real possibility, Olds spent the past winter cycling two to six hours per day in the rolling hills and coastal mountains near Gilroy.

“It was her life,” Dorrell said. “I never really realized what these Olympic athletes go through to make it there.”

Olds’ parents, as well as her brother and sister-in-law will be flying to London to cheer her on during her big race on July 29. As a regular Garlic Festival attendee, Dorrell will miss the Triple Garlic Mini Cheesecakes – among many other garlicky treats – featured this year since the dates conflict, but is beyond thrilled to see her daughter compete.

Of course, the thrill that her daughter will be racing in the Olympics comes with its share of worry, as it would for any mother.

“These road crashes are horrific. They crash and they rip their skin apart,” Dorrell said. “I’ve seen Shelley crash a few times, and it is very hard to watch.”

The crash in March that gave Olds a broken wrist kept her off her bike for six weeks, until she began riding with her cast still on.

“It was really hairy there for a while,” Dorrell said.

Despite losing those weeks of training from the broken wrist, Olds won the World Cup in China in May, building a strong case for her to be chosen for the Olympic team.

Cyclists competing in the 87-mile race will start and end in central London, on a course that snakes its way to through the suburbs and hills southwest of London.

Dorrell said that Gilroy was the perfect place for Olds to train, because of the diverse landscape in the nearby valley and mountains.

“The area really afforded her everything she needed for training,” she said. “And it is so gorgeous, you really can’t complain about your scenery.”

A Groton, Mass. native, Olds relished in being able to train through the winter in Gilroy, uninhibited from snow, ice pockets or painfully freezing weather.

During the months she trained in Gilroy, Olds had her parents eating very well – and very often. Huge salads, steaks, and lots of fish were mealtime staples, to keep up with the thousands of calories Olds burned daily.

Olds has taken home medals for the New Zealand Women’s Tour, the Pan American Championship and other national races.

With no women’s Tour De France, the summer Olympics is the pinnacle of women’s cycling.  

“It’s an incredible feeling,” she told this newspaper in January, after having just been picked as a long-list option for the Olympics team. “The Olympics for women in cycling is the ultimate event. It’s what you aim for in your whole career.”

Olds is sponsored by After Activity Drink, a European sports drink brand, and cycles full time for a professional Dutch team. Because of the time difference (she is currently in Italy) and her intense riding schedule, she could not be reached before press time for this story.

Olds is poised to do well in the Olympics, and if things go as she hopes, she’ll show she is capable of beating the best in the world.

“It’s amazing,” Dorrell said. “It took a lot of work and sacrifice to get here, and I think that’s what makes me most proud.”

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