BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — One of the country’s top cycling stars was at the Van Antwerp Middle School on Wednesday, working with kids as part of a Cyclo-cross clinic put on by the locally-based racing team Helping Riders Realize Talent (HRRT) racing team.
That cyclist? Emma White, who was not much older than many in the couple-dozen strong crowd she was instructing. White, 18, just graduated from Duanesburg High School earlier this year, but she is one of the best female Cyclo-cross competitors in the world. Three times, White — who was born in Niskayuna — has been her age division’s national champion in Cyclo-cross, while she is just recently coming off second-place finishes at the Road World Championships in her age division in two separate disciplines. Coming up, White will begin attending Union College in January, after — hopefully — competing in both the Cyclo-cross national and world championships.
Cyclo-cross is a discipline in which racers compete on a course filled with obstacles. Racers take in most of a course atop his or her bike, but often need to exit his or her ride to carry the bike through too-tough-to-peddle terrain.
While White competes in a variety of racing disciplines, Cyclo-cross is her specialty. Getting White to come to Niskayuna to help some of his riders was an opportunity too good to pass up for Andrew Rizzi, who lives in Niskayuna and helps run HRRT with his wife Heather Rizzi.
“She’d said she’d be thrilled to do it,” Rizzi said of White.
That enthusiasm showed through the couple hours she spent with some of the area’s youthful riders. Upon showing a finer piece of technique with her own bike, White glanced at her students for the day.
“Are there any questions on that?” she said. “Ask me anything.”
So, we at Your Niskayuna did just that.
Q: You were not too much older than the kids at today’s clinic. Had you ever previously led something like this?
A: Nope, never. I’ve been a part of some clinics where I was being taught, so I used the skills I learned there from other people, but this was the first time I’ve done a clinic.
Q: Your older brother is also an accomplished bike racer. Is he how you got into the sport?
A: He’s the main reason. My parents never raced, but they were always athletic people. We started with road racing — we’d watch the Tour de France every summer on TV and thought we should do it, too — so we got mountain bikes and rode them on the road. Then, we met the right people and they helped us get into Cyclo-cross and I fell in love with it.
Q: So, growing up, did people outside your family really understand what you were doing with all your competitions?
A: My closest friends knew about it, but they never were able to actually see it. They knew I was serious about it, but I don’t think they really understood what I was doing. (Laughs) They just knew I wasn’t always able to hang out.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I was accepted into Union College, but I’d deferred until January because I was traveling in September [for racing] and it wouldn’t have worked out.
Q: How does school and competitive racing mix? Will you be able to do both in college?
A: In high school, my teachers were really good about me missing classes. I went to a small school, so they all knew what I was up to and knew I wasn’t just playing hooky. With my brother Curtis, who’s at Union now, he’s done well with communicating with his professors about missing some classes. They’ve been really good with him.