Jill Kintner ramps up her BMX career again
Source: LA TIMES by Kevin Baxter
CHULA VISTA — She went down her first bike ramp when she was 2 and entered her first race when she was 8.
And she suffered her first lacerated kidney not too long afterward.
Yet none of that managed to knock Jill Kintner off her bike.
“There’s very few things that scare me,” said Kintner, the country’s top female BMX rider.
And that is why her mother, Jan, was sure someone had dialed the wrong number when she picked up the phone a few weeks back and heard nothing but sobs on the other end of the line.
In the final race of the season, Jill had edged her training partner and roommate Arielle Martin by a single point to grab the only U.S. berth in the first Olympic BMX event this summer in Beijing. While Jill was good at stoically staring down fear, she wasn’t so good at masking her joy, or sadness.
“She was crying. She was in tears,” said Jan Kintner. “I was shocked because she’s so focused, she doesn’t communicate a lot.”
Kintner, 26, had more than enough reason to cry, though, because that race at the world championships in China made good a long and painful gamble that started last year when the three-time mountain bike world champion decided to return to her BMX roots to take a shot at the Olympic Games.
The comeback was nearly short-lived after Kintner took two nasty spills during training, the first rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament and tearing the meniscus in her right knee, the second aggravating both injuries.
She chose to put off surgery until after the Olympics, but the lost time left Kintner, once a shoo-in for Beijing, needing the final race of the spring to clinch the lone U.S. spot in the 16-woman field.
“I’ve had all these injuries and setbacks and had to come back and regroup,” she said. “It’s been like a progression to get back into it.”
Kintner got her biking start in BMX, beginning on a track only 10 minutes from her home in suburban Seattle. By the second grade she was racing, at 14 she turned pro and at 17 it became a full-time job, one that led to a world championship and more than 70 other victories.
By then there were few sponsorship opportunities and even fewer challenges left for Kintner in BMX, which involves racing juvenile bikes with 20-inch wheels up to 35 mph over dirt courses replete with long jumps and tight turns.
So six years ago, Kintner jumped — literally — to 4-cross mountain biking, becoming arguably the best rider in that sport’s five-year history.
Much to her mother’s chagrin.
“I know three people that are paralyzed, two in mountain biking,” Jan Kintner said. “Terrifying jumps. And to be a champion, that’s what you do. You suck it up and you conquer your fears.”
Jill’s worst injuries, though, came shortly after her return to BMX, which, with its three-story starting gate, provides some chills of its own.
“When I get on the track, I feel a little bit scared,” Jill Kintner admits now. “I can go sky diving, I can jump off cliffs. But these jumps and stuff, it’s taken me a while to build up the courage to do it.”
Before one practice session at the Olympic Training Center here, Kintner took her mom to the top of the start gate on the course, which is a replica of the track riders will race in Beijing.
“That was horrible,” Jan Kintner remembered. “That’s when the mom says, ‘Can you please do something else?’ . . . I was terrified.”
Which brings us back to the early June phone call from China and the reunion in Seattle a few days later before the huge handmade sign that read: “U.S. Olympic Star Jill Kintner Lived Here. We Love Her.”
“It didn’t really hit me until I went home and my mom’s there. And she had tears,” Jill Kintner said. “We came in to the driveway and she made a giant sign. It was so cute.
“You see your friends and your family and you really realize it’s for them. You’ve done it your whole life but to give that back to them meant more to me than anything.”