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IU doctoral students take on new role as Little 500 coaches

Apr. 6, 2016

For two IU doctoral students, this year’s Little 500 bicycle race is much more than a weekend in April.

Andrew Younge and John Brooks have been preparing for the big race since last fall, when they were asked to coach two women’s bike teams for the first time.

Younge and Brooks

From left, IU doctoral students Andrew Younge and John Brooks shared their passion for cycling as Little 500 coaches in this year's race. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN BROOKS

“We are rookie coaches in the same way that we have rookie riders,” said Younge, who is coaching the Chi Omega team.

Younge and Brooks came to IU for two very different areas of research -- Brooks studies American literature, while Younge focuses on computer science -- but they came to know each other through their mutual involvement in the Bloomington cycling community. When they catch downtime from their rigorous coaching schedule, they often meet up and hop on their own bikes for a road ride.

Despite their shared passion for the sport of cycling, the two said, coaching is something they never would have gotten into without the urging of their mentor and expert of all things Little 500: Tom Schwoegler.

As an IU student in 1975, Schwoegler was a member of the steering committee for the IU Student Foundation. He has had 45 years of involvement with Little 500 and has coached six winning teams. In 2013, he became the first non-rider to be inducted into the Little 500 Riders Hall of Fame. His expert knowledge earned him a spot in the 1979 film “Breaking Away,” centered around the historic cycling event. His love for the Little 500 comes from learning about the deep-seated history over the years.

“I have been fortunate to know both the creator and champion of the Little 500, Howdy Wilcox and Bill Armstrong. I have also been extraordinarily fortunate to know and to have coached the founders of the Women’s Little 500, Martha Hinkamp and Leeann Terhune,” Schwoegler said. “To these people, I owe a profound debt of gratitude. These remarkable people had a dream that they transformed into a vivid reality. They provided a unique opportunity for students to journey on a road less traveled and learn a great deal about themselves in the process.”

Tom Schwoegler

Tom Schwoegler coaching the Women's Little 500 race in 2009. With more than 45 years of involvement with the race, he became the first non-rider to be inducted into the Little 500 Riders Hall of Fame. | PHOTO COURTESY OF TOM SCHWOEGLER

In addition to coaching, Schwoegler has begun passing on his decades of knowledge to another generation of cycling enthusiasts, encouraging them to get involved in the event. When he met Brooks and Younge, he immediately noticed their passion for the sport. 

“Tom has made this a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience,” said Brooks, who is coaching the Alpha Xi Delta team. “His excitement for Little 500 is certainly contagious.”

“And it knows no bounds,” Younge added.

Just as Schwoegler has established a bond with both Younge and Brooks throughout this process, they have made a similar bond with each of their cycling teams. That’s not hard to do when the coach and team members are spending upwards of 20 hours a week training together, Brooks said.

“I’ve definitely taken on the ‘dad’ role with my team,” Younge said. “It’s fixing bikes, making sure they’re taking care of themselves and making sure they’re on their bikes often. There’s a lot of management involved.”

Brooks agreed and said he feels a sense of pride as he watches his team’s riders accomplish something they’ve been working toward or push themselves to work harder.

Andrew Younge and team

Andrew Younge with riders from the Chi Omega team. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW YOUNGE

The Little 500 race carries with it 66 years of history and longstanding tradition, and, for bike enthusiasts like Brooks and Younge, it’s an experience they wouldn’t trade for the world. Since they are doctoral students, coaching is as close as they’ll ever get to the action -- but they still hope to leave a legacy to remember.

“I want to leave behind this really empowered group of strong and smart riders, who also have a passion for the sport of cycling,” Brooks said. “They’re really tremendous athletes, and I hope they are proud of their skills.”

Schwoegler, in watching the two men grow alongside their teams over the past year, said they’ve already surpassed their goal.

“Every day they use their cycling passion and newly acquired knowledge to unlock the passion and skill in their teams, not just as cyclists, but also as fiercely independent women.” he said, “This trait is invaluable to women no matter what their career path.”

Younge and Brooks' work aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success.

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