Love Letter to a Velodrome – Brenda Croell

Love Letter to a Velodrome

Words and photos (black and white) by Brenda Croell,  Introduction and photos (color) by Spencer Harding

I had heard much lore about the NSC velodrome over the years leading up to me spending last summer in Minneapolis.  It is truly a spectacle in physicality and community alike. Until you have taken a lap on those old boards you don’t truly understand what it takes to drop into those turns every Thursday night.  After just a few months in this community, I was brought to tears as we left the velodrome to move to Arizona, Brenda and I literally drove our fully packed truck to the velodrome for one last night of racing. I lack the words to describe my sorrow imagining how everyone in this community will feel when this place is torn down next summer.

We met on a cold Saturday in April. Winter had worn on you, rotted your core. My job, along with other volunteers, was to strengthen your weak points; a job you would reciprocate months later. You creaked and moaned as we pulled up your boards to expose your insides. Afzalia had become endangered and so we patched you with lesser wood. Rotten next to the new, but “well-loved” was the word I chose to use when talking about you to friends and family.

Summer meant I spent every Thursday I could spare with you. My body leading up to that day reacted as it does before a first date: sleepless nights, unbridled giddiness, overthinking, and trying on my skinsuit countless times. Instead of butterflies in my stomach, my lower region decided to nervously poop for 24 hours leading up to our meeting. Was this love?

Once a week for three months, my weaknesses were unapologetically put on display. Dark truths of my life that I had done well to ignore were spoken so clearly from an inanimate and seemingly voiceless object. “Eat more. Or you will not be able to ride.” And so I ate because being away from you meant my body would wither. “Leave him and be free.” And so I left because the three hours I spent with you were more joyful than the past three years of my life. I always thought it was a cliche when I overheard folks saying bicycles changed their life. But there I was, truly living on two wheels without brakes and without fear, speaking a sentence over and over that had never felt comfortable coming from my mouth: “I am strong.” What was supposed to be a casual hobby quickly turned into therapy while my competition soon became family.

Unfortunately, your time is coming to an end. And I can’t save you the way you have saved me and countless others. The space you occupied, which was dedicated to bikes and their humans, will ironically become a place for cars to park. Your soft green grass once littered with grandma quilts that were occupied by sweaty bodies of exhaustion and elation will turn to hard concrete. Silence will replace the sounds of rumbling boards, cheers from dedicated fans, and ridiculous infield dance parties. The bright lights will go dark and no longer illuminate faces of determination and defeat. We’ve seen this finale before. Dorais. Olympic. Stone Mountain. Fallowfield. Meadowbank. Dieppe. Your name will be added to the long list on a Wikipedia page titled “Velodromes No Longer in Use,” followed by a short description that does your story no justice.

I started this relationship knowing there was an expiration date, and that awareness has not softened the heartbreak. I refuse to accept that the only narrative told of you will be two sentences, one of them including the word “demolished.” You deserve better than that because you are magic incarnate. Each board possessing the ability to not just call out my fragileness, but also my strengths. The pieces of you that will stay with myself and others, outside of the literal splinters under our skin, are in the form of lifelong friends and a passion to preserve the freedom and power we all felt pedaling in circles at the NSC Velodrome.

The NSC Velodrome in Blaine, Minnesota is being torn down after the 2019 season. It has hosted countless Thursday Night Light competitions, Fixed Gear Classic, Track Cycling Championships, and Olympic Trials. One of the largest WTF fields in the country called the boards home, and numerous racers from around the country were able to experience riding what can only be described as a wooden roller coaster. The track community in Minneapolis is currently working hard to contact legislators to find a location and funding for an indoor cycling center that will not only benefit athletes but the community as well through youth job training programs and a variety of learn-to-ride cycling classes for children and adults.   

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