A Lovely Year for a Little Track Cycling Program in Queens. Go Star Track!

Michael Sandler
Dec 29, 2018 · 8 min read
Jayden Li celebrates his Jr. National Road Championship. Photo courtesy of Kenji Edmonds.

This is kind of long, but a lot happened in 2018. The year began — as have the past few — inside a shipping container in the Kissena Velodrome parking lot.

It’s not much — fits about seven kids at a time, max — but it’s Star Track’s winter home. Let’s hear it for the parents who stood outside in the cold at each session.

No problems inside for the riders. The container got plenty warm after about two minutes.

Winter racing meant nine-hour road trips to Toronto and the closest indoor velodrome in North America. We made the journey three times. Milton Velodrome is fantastic, but we all look forward to the day when NYC finally gets an indoor track. C’mon people, let’s build one already!

February brought Winter Camp in Rock Hill, SC. As our riders rode into shape at Giordana Velodrome, we began to sense that if everybody worked as hard as we thought they could, summer was going to be special.

Justin Butsavage, Billy Taylor, with Star Track partner and Affinity Cycle-founder Jason Gallacher in training at Giordana Velodrome.

The Grant’s Tomb Crit, the season’s first road race, arrived on a bitter Saturday in early March. We’d spent the weekend before in Kissena Park teaching the younger kids how to race on bikes with multiple gears for pretty much the first time.

Anton Gibson celebrates his early-season podium finish at the Grant’s Tomb Crit.

Our more experienced riders did nicely despite mind-numbing cold.

Pretty good result for Jacob’s very first international competition!

Later in March, we all cheered hard when Jacob Waters won a Bronze Medal in Brazil competing for Team USA at the World Para-Cycling Track Championships!

Our after-school program began anew in April. The mission hasn’t changed since the program started in 2004. Get kids on track bikes and good things happen. Fifteen years in, we’re still in awe of how riding a brakeless bike around a concrete oval can simply transform a child.

Go Isabella! Go Akira!

The program was a labor of love for New York City racer and Olympian Deirdre Murphy Bader.

Deirdre Murphy Bader with Delroy Walters in 2012

Deirdre and Coach Delroy Walters were determined to bring children from underserved communities into a wonderful, but often expensive sport by making it free. Deirdre passed away in 2014. We still miss her deeply and strive to grow a program she’d be proud of.

We never push riders to bring their racing to the next level; we want every kid to just enjoy the ride, but there’s always a group that wants more. The speed, the fun, the competition are infectious. Racing feels like the wind, says 10-year-old Katie, who made the leap and earned our girl-rider-of-the-year award.

Yes, that’s Yosef, our most dedicated rider 2018.

Pretty soon, we discovered the ones who would stay late after every practice, and show up Wednesday nights for Kissena’s Twilight Series races, kids like Yosef and Wesley and Caiden and Laurence and, well, there were a heck of a lot of them this year.

Caiden & Wesley, two little lightning bolts … Photo by Robert Lai.

As spring rolled forward, we realized that we might be bringing our biggest team ever out to the Jr. National Championships in T-Town.

Go Tyrique!

In the run-up to Nationals, we rented track time at Valley Preferred to hold our final training sessions.

The riders were looking real good. The little ones. The big ones. The sprinters. The pursuiters. All of them.

Photos courtesy of Phil Penman.

We worked ’em pretty hard.

Star Track showed up at Jr. Track Nationals with a group of nearly 30 riders aged 10–18. We’re not sure if any team has ever brought more, but we sure haven’t. And we’ve certainly never felt prouder — of our younger racers riding in their first mass start races with 20+ competitors and our race team veterans—they all rode so well!

Matt “Chainsaw” Harrison with Ian Buss & Geneway Tang, our Gold-Medal winning sprint team. They had to overcome a few mishaps.

There were ups-and-downs of course, but in the end, Star Track riders earned 25 medals. That included 8 national champion jerseys for Ian Buss, Matthew Harrison, Jayden Li, Geneway Tang, Sophia Shuhay, Billy Taylor and Jacob Waters!

Five of our eleven 2018 Star Track and Star Track Elite national champions.

After a deep breath, it was on to road nationals. We didn’t expect gold medals down in Maryland. After all, we’re a track team from a place with bad winters and lots of traffic. Then it happened.

Jayden’s time trial podium was just a warm up for his gold-medal ride in road. Photo by Kenji Edmonds.

When Jayden Li came up that hill all by himself in the road race, his mom turned to Coaches Pete and Gil with a look of pure fear. “Did he get lapped?”

It wasn’t a stupid question — not at all. Usually, when you find yourself all alone it’s cause you’ve been left behind. But nope, no laps in a road race, and Jayden hadn’t been left behind. He’d left everyone else behind. It felt unreal, this 12-old-from Queens who had gotten his first pair of bike shoes a few months earlier was now Jr. National Road Champion and Jr. National Track Champion. Sometimes you can’t say wow enough.

Enzo, Jayden & Allentown’s Grayson Hauck shared a lot of podium time between Road Nats and Track Nats. Photo by Kenji Edmonds.

And then, the very next day in the Crit … Enzo! He already won a jr. national track championship as a 9-year-old. He wanted a Crit gold too. None of our kids take more joy from getting on a bike and making it go really, really fast. Add in Jayden’s surge to the finish to grab silver by half-an-inch, and we’ll say wow one more time.

In August, it was on to USA Cycling’s Elite Championships. Time for our special J’s, Joe Christiansen, Josh Hartman, Justin Butsavage. Keirin gold for Joe. Team Sprint gold for Joe & Josh alongside Dominic Souzzi. It’s a level of excellence we’ve almost come to expect from these two.

If you’re not familiar with Josh’s story, well, you should be. It’s here.

What we didn’t completely expect was Justin Butsavage lapping the field on his way to becoming the Elite National Scratch Champion. Way to make Coach Gibby Hatton happy, Justin!

That’s one happy coach!

Finally, it was back to Kissena for the fall semester of our after-school program.

Our beginner class included its largest group of girls ever. We’re determined to see women’s racing grow, and this is how it starts.

October, of course, brought Track-or-Treat on Halloween.

And November, a chilly finale.

A few other highlights from fall:

Seeing Justin and Matt compete at Collegiate Nationals for Marian University‘s Cycling Knights, following in the footsteps of Star Track alum and multiple collegiate gold medal winner Stephanie Torres.

Seeing Sophia Shuhay cap off her incredible year by earning a place on the Olympic Development Team and getting certified as the U.S.A. National Junior Record holder in the Flying 200.

2019 is just around the corner. We don’t know if our riders will win 14 national championship jerseys this year or ever again. We don’t know the next time one of our racers will make Gibby Hatton jump so high in the air. But we’re back inside the trailer in the Kissena Velodrome parking lot generating sweat and heat and looking forward to seeing the faces of the next group of rookie eight year olds who discover track cycling for the first time when April rolls around.

We want to thank all of our parents, all of our coaches, all of our supporters, and all of our sponsors for making this happen. We ride because of you.

Go Star Track!

Star Track’s 2018 season was only made possible through the support of its generous sponsors, partners and supporters: Affinity Cycles, Chef’s Cut Real Jerky, Davidson Kempner Capital Management, Christine D’Ercole, ERO Sports Pennsylvania, Hincapie Sportswear, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, Lenox Advisers, Lucarelli & Castaldi, LLP, One Equity Partners, and USA Cycling.

Many thanks as well to Kenji Edmonds, Robert Lai and Phil Penman for pix. Check them out; they are amazing photographers.

If you want to learn more about Star Track Cycling, you can do so here and keep up with the program on Facebook and Instagram.

If you would like to support Star Track’s free track cycling program for New York City kids, donations are warmly accepted here.

Michael Sandler

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Michael Sandler lives in New York City where he is coach and media director for Star Track Cycling.