Sarah Hammer-Kroening and Jennie Reed at the 2022 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
The choice was obvious. It came from a connection first made 10 years ago.
Sarah Hammer-Kroening, a four-time Olympic medalist, is now the associate high-performance director for U.S. Paralympics Cycling. When she was looking for a coach prior to this year’s track world championships in Paris, she knew exactly who to call.
Jennie Reed, a three-time Olympian who won a historic Olympic silver medal in women’s team pursuit with Hammer-Kroening in 2012 in London, knew the call was coming because it had come before.
“I’m really serious this time,” Hammer-Kroening said to Reed over the phone. “I don’t know if now is a good time, but I’d love for you to come on with our leadup to Paris.”
“Oh, gosh, OK, let me think about this. I’ll get back to you,” Reed responded.
The answer was obvious, too.
“Then, sure enough, I couldn’t pass it up because she knows I’m easy to get fired up and motivated,” Reed said.
It’s always been that way for the longtime U.S. cycling teammates who have become close friends over the years. They share a passion that has extended from their competition years into coaching. When Reed gave birth to her daughters one year apart, Hammer-Kroening made the trip to Seattle to see her friend and new family.
The two joined assistant coach Rory O’Reilly, a 1984 Olympian, for a national camp at the VELO Sports Center in Carson, California, earlier this year. They followed that up with a world championships trip to Paris in October, where Hammer-Kroening and Reed spent the last night talking over dinner with a view of the Eiffel Tower.
“We’re rooming together again,” Hammer-Kroening said. “It’s just like old times.”
Those “old times” included a memorable journey to the Olympic Games London 2012, when another phone call by Hammer-Kroening to Reed lured the Olympic sprint cyclist out of her competitive racing retirement.
“She’s the one who called me back up,” said Reed, who had previously competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. “She said, ‘Hey, we need you. If we want a shot at an Olympic medal, we need you. We need your speed.’
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, are you kidding me?’ I thought I was retired. She always kind of plants the seed.”
The grueling and dramatic path to those Olympic Games was chronicled by a documentary titled “Personal Gold: An Underdog Story.”
Winning a silver medal in the Olympic debut of women’s team pursuit, Hammer-Kroening and Reed teamed up with Dotsie Bausch and Lauren Tamayo to capture the first U.S. Olympic track cycling medal in 12 years. It was the only Olympic medal Reed won. Hammer-Kroening added three additional silver medals in her career, including in the women’s omnium in 2012.
That history is what made this year’s leap to coaching at the Para world championships so special.
“It’s been awesome,” said Hammer-Kroening, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “Just to have her alongside me again, we’re a really great team and always have been. We have our strengths that are different from each other, as well. And I think that we really complement each other.”
“It is organic,” said Reed, who lives in Seattle. “We know each other so well. She knows my strengths and weaknesses, and I know hers. We seamlessly fill in for each other.”
Reaping the benefit of all that Olympic experience were the 11 riders who combined to win 12 medals at the Para track world championships in Paris earlier this year. It’s also the same track that will be used for the Paralympic and Olympic Games in 2024.
“Sarah and Jennie and Rory, they all kept pushing. They all kept pushing really, really hard,” said Bryan Larsen, a former able-bodied road racer who made his Para-cycling worlds debut in Paris. “So I’m definitely better coming out the tail end of it.”
Hammer-Kroening, who will be the head coach for the Para-cycling track team at the 2024 Games and writes training programs for U.S. riders, has been working on the Paralympic side since 2018. She has joined several Olympians who have done the same.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “It shows how much focus is getting put on the Paralympics. Where you do, you have Olympic athletes who have chosen to work with them. I tell everybody, once you get into Para, you’re in there for good. I really enjoy working on the Paralympic side.”
Reed, a mother of two, Keirin and Anna (the former named after the track cycling discipline in which Reed won a world championship), and wife to Brandon, was home writing training programs and working with athletes in the Seattle area, in addition to running her coaching website (jenniereedracing.com), when Hammer-Kroening called. Reed was delighted to be back out on the track coaching in person.
“It was similar to (riding), where it’s really, really hard. But I wouldn’t do it unless I had the passion,” Reed said. “This time, to see the athletes succeed. I saw the coaching side of that stress and appreciate it. It’s stressful because you want the athletes to perform, and you want to do everything you can to help make that happen the best you can.”
All this puts Hammer-Kroening and Reed on another path toward Paris in 2024. There is little question about that. Another phone call to Seattle will bring them together again.
“(Hammer-Kroening) knows I’m passionate about these athletes in helping them,” Reed said, laughing. “I think it would be hard to back down at this point and leave them to their own devices.”