At age 17, Addy Albershardt is a professional athlete in a sport in which she's one of the youngest competitors: bicycle racing.
Albershardt, who lives in the Sardis Forest area near N.C. 51, started going on group rides when she was 10 and began racing at 13. She says she came by it naturally: Her father was on the U.S. national cycling team when he was younger.
"It is something I've always grown up with," she said.
Albershardt competes in three types of races: time trials, racing against the clock; road racing, a race on a 40- to 100-mile long course; and criterium, in which cyclists do laps on a shorter road course.
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Last year Albershardt, on the U.S. junior national team, was recruited for the elite national team, which consists of the best professional cyclists in the country. Olympic competitors are chosen from this group.
In March 2011, Albershardt, then a junior at East Mecklenburg High, was missing school to travel the world with the nine-person NOW Pro Cycling team. The team is sponsored by reality-TV show host Phil Keoghan, of "The Amazing Race," and helps raise money to fight Multiple Sclerosis.
After missing 10 days of school, Albershardt had to start attending recovery classes.
"My teachers were very helpful with everything, making sure I was going to pass legally," she said. "This year there was an early graduation program.
"There would be no way I could do both school and all the traveling that I'm doing."
Thanks to the Rainbow Graduation program, Albershardt graduated in December.
Albershardt's professional team is made up of cyclists from all over the country, but her recruiter, coach and the captain of the team, Robin Faria, is a local woman who owns Uptown Cycles in Charlotte.
"We don't train together as a team; we train on our own. I'm fortunate to have a teammate living by me, otherwise it's a very lonely sport," Albershardt said.
Faria and Albershardt are the only two on the team who also are on the national team.
Faria is attempting to gain one of four spots on the team for the 2012 Olympics. Albershardt said she hopes she will be an Olympic contender for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
As a professional, everything concerning the sport is paid for by the team's sponsors: travel, food, bikes and gear. While the rest of her teammates also make a salary, Albershardt is not yet 18, and therefore is not allowed a salary. She does, however, get a share of any prize money.
According to Albershardt, the salary professional female cyclists receive is far below those of male cyclists.
"Most of the professional women have a second job at a coffee shop or bike shop," she said. "A lot of women in the field are coaches. They give back to their communities by helping other people. Unless you're the best in the world, you have to have a second job to help out with stuff like health insurance."
Albershardt says her favorite trip so far was to Copenhagen, Denmark, where she participated in the Junior World Championships last year. While there, she got to meet the best cyclists in the world, some of whom likely will be in the Olympics.
The sport is not easy, she said. While riding on Paris Mountain in South Carolina, Albershardt hit gravel on one of the sharp turns and was thrown from her bike. She landed on her chest and face, breaking all her front teeth.
"There was a jagged line where my teeth should be," she said.
But two days after receiving nine stitches on her chest and getting her teeth fixed, Albershardt was back on her bike.
When asked how her family feels about her career choice, Albershardt laughed. "My mom was pretty apprehensive at first, but she finally let go and now she realizes more of what I do and respects it a lot," she said.
Since her dad used to be a professional cyclist, he was one of her biggest encouragers. He lives in Asheville where Albershardt visits often to train on the mountainous roads.
On Feb. 22, Albershardt will compete in her first international competition at the adult level with the elite national team in New Zealand.
In the fall, Albershardt plans to attend Mars Hill College outside Asheville, where she received both an academic and cycling scholarship. She will ride for both the school's cycling team and her professional team.
"I'll have to say no to more races once I'm in college," she said. "But it is my job, in a way, so I can't say no to a lot. One thing I might do is just take fall semester classes because my season is February to October, so when the 2016 Olympics get closer, I can probably do that and just finish a little later than the other kids."