You can guarantee junior Erin Gallo will have on her pair of black biking socks this Friday night.
While she won’t say they’re her lucky pair, they’re the ones she’s worn every race in her three-year history with Alpha Omicron Pi’s Little 500 bike team.
She joined as a freshman only a few weeks after she had received her bid for the sorority — so with two Little 500 seasons already under her belt, she’s been involved with the bike team longer than any of the team’s other four members.
She was there when her team placed last in qualifications this past year and 26th in the women’s race. At the time, the team was made up of four rookies, three who raced, and one veteran, Erin.
“I wanted to do better than my freshman year,” Gallo said.
As a freshman, Gallo said she never had plans to join a bike team as she went through recruitment. She said her bid day buddy — AOPi calls them “pandas” — Lauren Mudd encouraged her to ride with the team for fun. She said the first day she showed up at the Wilcox House and asked where the rest of the team was, they told her she was a part of the team.
“I loved it within the first two days,” Gallo said.
Gallo has been racing with the team ever since and acts as a source of direction for rookies.
“Erin always has such good guidance,” sophomore rookie Meghan Stanfel said.
As a bike team for a sorority, every time its members race, they come with a traveling audience of more than 100 women.
“It’s kind of daunting,” junior Kylie Wilcer said. “There are so many people counting on you to do well. You don’t want to disappoint, and I don’t think we will.”
But Wilcer said that amount of support can also help ease nerves during Little 500 season.
“Around the house, everyone is always asking how I’m doing, if I’m nervous, if I’m excited, if I’m worried,” she said a week out of the race.
To represent their chapter’s mascot, the panda, they all wore jerseys with giant panda faces on them for quals and other Little 500 Spring Series events.
“We’ve bonded even more this year than last year,” Wilcer said. “We all have each other’s backs.”
Wilcer broke her collarbone during a practice last year and was unable to participate in the women’s race. While she was in a pace line near turn four of the track, she said the rider behind her had overlapped her, and the rider in front slowed down, leaving her nowhere to go.
That’s when the crash happened. She said she doesn’t remember much of it.
“But I’m sure Erin and the other girls could tell you some funny stories about me in the ambulance,” she said.
She had surgery two days after and did physical therapy for another six weeks.
A plate was inserted into her collarbone and is still there now. Even so, she said she was back on her bike by the second week of May.
“I rode all summer, and now I’m a lot more anxious because I know what to expect,” she said.
This year, they placed 25th at quals. Gallo said she attributes this renewal of the team to the greater amount of experience.
The team of five women — Gallo, Wilcer, junior Mary Hidde and sophomores Stanfel and Rory Mills — went on a spring break trip together to Sanibel, Fla. In addition to relaxing at the beach, they also trained and practiced exchanges on the shore.
“It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Wilcer said.
Most of the women on the team have to balance work for classes and other positions they hold in the house with their training for Little 500.
“You almost get used to the day revolving around being at the track,” Stanfel said.
Mills said the training is manageable because the time between classes and her other involvement, which she would normally spend hanging out, is used for training.
“I never realized how much work goes into it,” Mills said. “You really put so much time and energy into something.”
In recent weeks, they have trained every day, though not every member is always able to make it.
“All our girls are really busy,” Gallo said. “Sometimes we’ll say, ‘Dangit, I wish so-and-so was here,’ but we’re not going to ask her not to go to her morale meeting or whatever.”
When a teammate can’t come to practice, she will do her workout on her own time, Gallo said.
“We’re not as regimented, and that goes with the flow of the house in general,” Gallo said. “We don’t ever want it not to be fun.”