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From Division III to the Olympics

Former DIII soccer star Shelley Olds stepped off the pitch and onto a bike, which she’s ridden all the way to the Summer Games

By Jack Copeland

Shelley Olds is quick to credit her experiences as a Roanoke soccer student-athlete for her steady ascent in international road cycling rankings – including learning how to handle adversity.

She was forced at the 2012 Olympics to rely on that skill, as part of a breakaway pack of four cyclists vying for gold in the Women’s Road Race through the streets of London. Olds suffered a flat tire about three-quarters of the way through the race, knocking her from the pack, whose other three cyclists ultimately won medals.

However, she was able to repair the flat and place seventh – the best finish by an American woman since 1992. And she has her sights set on another medal run in Rio in 2016, on a course that will require her to add skills as a climber to her world-class talents as a sprinter.

Those who remember the Maroon midfielder as the 2002 Old Dominion Athletic Conference soccer player of the year – such as Roanoke coach Phil Benne, who told a reporter in 2012 how she “had that ability to just run all day and cover ground on the field” – will be cheering her on.

Olds graduated with a degree in health and human performance and concentration in exercise science, and was working in medical clinics when she became involved in cycling – a sport she eventually took on full time as a professional.

This year, Olds hopes to compete in a slate of races around the world, from Qatar next month to World Cup circuit locales in The Netherlands, Italy, China, France and Spain.

Following her experience in London, she told Roanoke’s alumni magazine how the lessons she learned as a student-athlete continue to guide her quest on the road.

“At Roanoke, I learned a lot about discipline and sacrifice. I learned how to be part of a team, how to manage my time, how to handle adversity, and how to succeed as a student-athlete. I learned that all of my choices had consequences, and that even though I was in control of my decisions, those decisions would always somehow impact the people I care about.

“I learned how to balance sports, work and school. I learned how to respect differences in culture, background and ability.”

Now, she’s handled adversity on the sport’s most visible stage, and she continues to ride the road to success.

Nominated by Scott Allison, director of athletics at Roanoke College.