Brenna McGinn is a name that you might not recognize — after all, she is a rookie — but it’s a name you need to learn quickly to get ready for this year’s Little 500.
McGinn, a senior riding for Kappa Alpha Theta, just picked up cycling this year. She was a competitive cheerleader in high school, but never ran track or cross country, the sport of choice for several Little 500 riders. In fact, she admits she forgot how to ride a bike the summer before coming to IU.
But despite her newness, McGinn has picked up riding immediately. She finished fifth overall at ITTs, the top rider outside of the No. 1 heat.
We asked McGinn to tell us how she’s gotten to where she is today, and what’s made her successful at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
33to1: What were the nerves like before ITTs?
McGinn: They were pretty high just because ITTs were supposed to be on Wednesday. I felt really prepared on Wednesday because I had been doing ITTs and then the weather kinda screwed that up. The weather continued to screw the track up, so I hadn’t gotten to do an ITT since Tuesday. So I was nervous about my pacing and, I mean, I got to see my teammates kill it all day so that just made me more amped up.
I guess I didn’t really get crazy nervous until I was on the warm up bike and I realized that so many people were watching and it is an individual thing, my team isn’t there with me. That’s when it started kicking in a lot.
33to1: Was that the best time you had ever done on your ITTs? How did that compare to your practice times?
McGinn: My fastest time I put up before my ITT was on Monday and it was 2:46 (McGinn’s official ITT run on Saturday was 2:42.97). I was happy with that. I knew that that would’ve landed me seventh last year, and you’re not supposed to compare times at all, but it was a little bit of a confidence boost going into it.
The track was so fast. I saw that in the times all day. My teammates all killed it. They all bested their own times. That was definitely a personal record for me. I felt good, ya know, after I started feeling things again.
33to1: How much have you learned from Kathleen Chelminiak (a former Theta sprinter)? Did she say anything to you? What interactions have you had with her?
McGinn: We actually just went on a ride together today (Monday). So, so supportive. We call her Aunt Kath because she’s at the track all the time. All of her advice was just a boost of confidence for me. We didn’t really figure out, as a team, that I was our sprinter until recently, until we were doing lap sprints and I was really blessed to have fast legs on the team. The rest of my team is so strong in other aspects.
Kath has been in my ear just yelling for me, cheering for me, telling me when to conserve, when to go, just kind of talking me down and calming my nerves. It’s been a really awesome role that she’s had in the last couple of weeks in my life.
33to1: What athletic experiences did you have in high school?
McGinn: If you can believe it, I was a competitive cheerleader for 10 years, which no one would think would translate well to biking, but apparently it has. I haven’t really done any athletics since I joined college.
33to1: So you never did track or cross country or anything like that?
McGinn: No, honestly my dad bought me a bike for college. I remember riding it around the cul-de-sac and not remembering how to ride a bike my freshman year. That’s embarrassing, but it happened. I don’t know why I have fast legs, but I’m really glad I do, I guess.
33to1: How did you get to be part of Theta?
McGinn: My friend’s mom talked me into rushing my freshman year. I was gonna be an RA because I didn’t really get the whole sorority thing. I rushed, and it was just a wonderful fit. My weirdness was totally compatible with these girls and that’s what I was looking for. It just worked out and I grew to love the house. This place is literally the best fans, the most amazing support. I can’t even tell you the amount of people that have been so happy for me. I don’t even know how to respond to it. It’s been a really great experience.
33to1: Has it sunk in yet that you’re the sprinter on Theta, a team that has finished second the last two years, always competitive, always one of the favorites in Little 500?
McGinn: Absolutely not, and I don’t think it’s going to sink in until I’m on the bike. It hasn’t even sunk in that I placed fifth in ITTs yet. For me, it was just kinda like a normal day at the track, trying to best myself. I don’t think any mental preparation can get me ready for what’s going to happen in the last few laps of the race. I’m excited because I know my team is so strong and they’re going to get me exactly where I need to be. After that, I guess I just have to leave it up to instincts.
33to1: What have you heard about the differences between ITTs and Miss ‘N Out, and how are you preparing differently for Miss ‘N Out?
McGinn: I know Miss ‘N Out is a lot more strategy. It’s a lot better of a predictor of how well you think during a race, which is scary because in ITTs you don’t think at all. You just go. I know that it’s an opportunity to work with other girls, to draft a little bit more, to be a little more aggressive on the field to really prove yourself against a person rather than just trying to beat yourself up on the track.
33to1: So how did you become part of the Theta bike team?
McGinn: I looked at our team, and we’re so strong ever year, I knew Kath and Rachel were graduating, and Kate, who’s our only veteran on the team right now, she was debating whether or not she’d even be able to ride because she’s student teaching this semester. Something inside me was like, ‘Hey, you should ride this year.’ So I asked for a bike for my 21st birthday and then I started riding it and I guess the rest is history, or, still in progress.
33to1: What’s been the reaction from people on your team that you’ve been able to come in your first year and have almost no riding experience and have success like that?
McGinn: They have been asking me where I’ve been the past few years. I feel a little bit bad. I’ve just been bummin’ around the house, in the library, like a normal college student and that is a great regret of mine to have not gotten involved earlier. But I wouldn’t spend my senior year any other way and I think maybe part of my success is knowing this is my only year. It’s exciting and it’s nerve-wraking and I don’t want to screw it up, but it’s definitely out of my hands.