In September 2022, three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong spent a week in Roanoke as part of her ongoing role in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Team Twenty-24, and to be the keynote speaker at the annual Visit VBR dinner.
10 News anchor John Carlin also had the chance to go for a short bike ride with her and do a sit-down interview.
Riding bikes with Kristin Armstrong is like riding with royalty.
Armstrong won Olympic gold in the time trial in Beijing in 2008, then again in London in 2012, then Rio in 2016. That makes her the most decorated female cyclist in U.S. history.
As we rode our bikes along Wiley Drive in Roanoke, I asked her what life is like now that her professional career has drawn to a close.
“I think when I look back at training and racing bikes - as much as I hate to say this - I think that was the easy life,” Armstrong said.
But even that life wasn’t so easy. And it wasn’t just the training required to be at the pinnacle of her sport.
After Beijing, Armstrong retired to start a family. Her son, Lucas now 12 was an infant when she decided to come back.
“So it was only about six weeks after having Lucas when I announced coming out of retirement. It was about 22 months before London,” she said.
Armstrong told the crowd of hundreds at the annual dinner for Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, that she then had to break additional barriers.
“I mean to travel with my family? To show up with my baby? Just so you know it’s not allowed,“ Armstrong said.
But she made it. Even with new responsibilities.
“I was still breastfeeding, and I was traveling to the airport to my first race, and my husband would take him at the start line. Right when I cross the finish line of course you gotta do what you gotta do,” she explained. “It took a lot of dedication from my husband, my family. They traveled with me. I remember going to the airport with my pack and play and my stroller and I’m like now, do I have my bike with me?”
On race day she beat the world - and won several other battles.
“Not only did I get to stand on the podium, but I also got to stand on the podium with my son,” Armstrong told the Visit VBR audience with more than a few tears in her eyes.
Then came Rio and a new struggle. She was now over 40 – too old in many people’s eyes.
“So, when I turned 40 wasn’t necessarily viewed by everyone as a positive. But the difference is that when Lance Armstrong came back out of retirement over 40 it was the coolest thing ever. So, explain that to me,” Armstrong said
But we know the results.
The day before her 43rd Birthday.
Few professional athletes have seen that level of success after 40. Armstrong said she is used to the comparisons people make to NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Brett Favre.
Armstrong lives in Boise, Idaho, which is known for its rugged scenery. Riding around Roanoke, she gushed about the quality of cycling in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
“My gosh, you can’t beat the cycling around here. I was out on the Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday. [The mountains] are great. They’re very rolling,” she said.
What’s Next for Kristin Armstrong
Armstrong hasn’t slowed in the slightest, since retiring from competitive cycling.
She’s coaching individual cyclists, has opened two gyms, travels the nation speaking – and serves as a high-performance consultant and mentor to the now Roanoke-based VBR Team Twenty 24, which has produced 14 Olympians over its history.
“I continue to be a part of my dear friend Nichola Cranmer’s program which is Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty-24 cycling team. This is truly the next generation. The team is filled with junior development. It’s filled with elite athletes who are going to world championships. Winning national championships, going to the Olympics in Paris,” she said.
If anything, Armstrong upped her pace. She jokes that she has a Type AAA personality and simply cannot sit still.
She also admits it’s a mistake to challenge her. As many did when she twice came out of retirement.
She’s not bitter. But she does admit a bit of extra motivation that comes from being challenged.
“I learned a long time ago that if you’re in the sport or if you’re in business to prove something, you’re in it for the wrong reason. So, it does fuel my fire and so that is one thing but I’m not in the sport to prove people wrong. It does really accelerate my desire, Armstrong admitted as we rode through Roanoke’s Old Southwest neighborhood.
Through it all, she places being a mother first, from including Lucas in her Olympic endeavors, to picking him up at school.
“There are those who believe that you should stop doing anything, your goals that you have set out for yourself. And that everything should go towards your newborn or your children. I feel that continuing on with some individual goals will only provide more for my son because I’m leading by example,” Armstrong said. “I can’t imagine my career and having to explain to my son all before you were born ‘I used to be.’ Because he was able to live part of this experience with me.
What happens when someone devotes Olympic champion caliber training to regular life?
“People question me they’re like what are you doing aren’t you going to chill out and relax? And I would go home thinking should I be chilling out relaxing, but the minute I have like an hour of downtime I create, my mind creates, like five more things to do.”
Armstrong added, “A lot of times in life we complain about, we’re so busy, we’re so this, but you know for the person who thrives off being busy, try being bored. It’s horrible.”
Kristin Armstrong has broken records and barriers. And she still isn’t finished.
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