Murphy: Kristin Armstrong eases off the pedals

July 14, 2013 

Joseph Connell, 6, gives Kristin Armstrong a spontaneous hug after 5- and 6-year-olds took a lap on the Twilight Criterium course, led by the Olympian. Joseph remembers Armstrong from last year's ride, plus seeing her on television. "He really identifies with her, " said Joseph's father, Mike Connell.

It's been less than a year since Kristin Armstrong capped her cycling career with a second Olympic gold medal. Less than a year since one of Boise's most popular residents hung up the pedals for a new line of work and, gasp!, weekends.

"I definitely have more time for family functions. I'm around on the holidays. Another new thing for me: I know what looking forward to Fridays is all about. Cool, it's a weekend. Oh, a three-day weekend? What are we going to do?" said Armstrong, who is now Executive Director of Community Health at St. Luke's.

She spent Saturday at Boise's annual Twilight Criterium. The most famous cyclist at the event led her annual kids' ride, signed autographs and fought the urge to compete.

"When a race like Twilight comes around, I have visions of starting the race, attacking really hard and the crowd,"Armstrong said. "It's tough. All the girls are coming to my hometown, coming to race on my turf.

"It's a love-hate thing. You watch it and on one of the corners there's a big pile-up and someone breaks their collarbone and you say, 'I'm so glad I'm not out there.' But when the weather is like 92 and there are 20,000 fans and no crashes, you're like, 'Oh.' "

For the 39-year-old Armstrong, who first captured gold in the time trial at the 2008 Beijing Games, the transition from professional cyclist to average - but beloved - citizen has been filled with those types of tradeoffs.

Instead of worrying about her workout times, she's more concerned with answering emails. The structure of her training has been replaced with additional time and freedom.

"I miss the lifestyle, but I always have to remind myself how much I was burnt out," she said.

The toughest thing: not feeling world-class fit. To an outside observer, she looks as fit as ever. But Armstrong knows the difference between the two-hour fitness rides she does every morning and the exhaustive, punishing training she used to do. The training that allowed her to overcome arthritic hips and win gold, to overcome a brief retirement, motherhood and a broken clavicle just months before the London Games to win again.

"It's like all of a sudden after 10 years of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day to go to one," Armstrong said of comparison between her previous riding and now.

The competitive spirit, the one that propelled her, remains. She is just having to find different outlets, including work and a new sport. Her new job allows Armstrong to use the connections she has with fitness partners in the community to help develop programs for better health, particularly with children.

"They've been supporting me as Kristin Armstrong, Olympic gold medalist. Now it's a cool opportunity for me to sit down and ask how can St. Luke's and how can I help you?" she said. "I've come full circle."

Armstrong has come full circle in sport, too. From champion to beginner. While she won't compete in road race events - she knows where she was and needs no reminder that she is not at that level anymore - Armstrong has taken to mountain biking. She planned to do a race in Sun Valley before a hard training crash.

"No expectations," Armstrong said.

And then there is Lucas, who will be 3 in September. Armstrong's first retirement was motivated by her desire to have a family. And when she held Lucas on the medal stand in London, she completed her storybook comeback the way she had always imagined.

Lucas is already riding and his mannerisms and determination remind both Armstrong's husband Joe and her father of Kristin.

"If I had my dream, I would have Lucas in a team sport where he's having fun and learning about being part of a group," she said. "I love when kids are involved in team sports, it teaches them so much about life, sharing, ethics, being a teammate. It teaches you a lot of life lessons."

It's also a good way to spend those now free weekends.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444

Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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