Journey around the world

Elite cyclist Kathryn Bertine is writing about her quest to qualify for the 2012 London Games. In Part 2 of her series, Bertine talks about representing her adopted nation of St. Kitts and Nevis in grueling competitions in Belgium.

I've never been completely normal. Friends and family have grown accustomed to my sudden outbursts, such as, "I need to go to Belgium immediately" and "Does anyone have electrical tape handy?" and "Where is my chain-link toothbrush?" My condition, however, does come with one positive side effect. I happen to be an extremely tenacious nitwit, and my abnormal level of self-motivation and strange ability to "just keep going" has taken me on a most interesting athletic journey.

At the moment, I'm in rural Belgium for six weeks of the hardest bike races on the planet. My goal for 2011 (and the start of 2012) is to do well enough in these selected international races to gain enough Olympic qualification points to rank me in the top 100 cyclists in the world. If I can do that, I go to the Olympics. Of course, that's much easier to type than it is to achieve.

Getting to Europe wasn't easy. Most people take a plane to Belgium; I took an island. Two, actually. And the trip has taken roughly three years.

The full, bizarre story is told in my book, "As Good As Gold," but here's the summary: In 2008, I became a dual citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis, a small country in the Caribbean with a small men's cycling federation. There were no female racers. My role is to help build a junior cycling federation so that there will be more female racers from St. Kitts and Nevis, such as the Lloyd sisters (pictured above). In exchange for this, I am allowed to race for the country. A key factor, however, is that dual citizenship does not grant anyone entry to the Olympics.

No matter what country one races for, an athlete must qualify for the Games via rigorous international criteria. The global growth of sports federations has made qualifying for the Olympics an arduous task. And that's a good thing. Many decades ago it may have been possible for a female to "walk on" an Olympic team, but not so anymore. And so, I continue to race for St. Kitts and Nevis, hoping to win the country its first Olympic berth in cycling and show the young riders of the Caribbean what is possible for female athletes to achieve. That, and if they start training before age 31 their chances are a hell of a lot better.

Courtesy of Kathryn Bertine

Cobblestones are the most dreaded and revered aspect of bike racing in Europe.

Now comes the part where half my readers praise my effort with St. Kitts and Nevis, and half my readers rip me a new ... perspective. Some people believe it is unpatriotic to represent a country other than the one in which you were born and raised. Some people believe helping another nation succeed is, in fact, an aspect of patriotism, and that there is nothing wrong with loving two countries. Here's what I believe in: human kindness. Two years ago, after people around the world read my adventures on ESPN.com, more than 800 pounds of cycling equipment and monetary donations were shipped to St. Kitts and Nevis, and the country was able to hold its first national cycling championships in 2009 with a group of junior riders, a third of whom were girls. Not to mention, the nation has now participated in three world championships. Sure, patriotism has various interpretations. Good thing humanism doesn't.

So here I am, circumnavigating the pastoral villages of Belgium as I prepare for my first two races; the Omloop van Hageland and the Deerlijk 1.15. Learning how to pronounce those events might just be the only thing harder than racing them. With the Olympic goal in view, I'll be flying the colors of St. Kitts and Nevis on my jersey while racing for a Belgian team and reporting back to my U.S. readers. Not exactly normal, but I wouldn't have it any other way. By the way, has anyone seen my tube of DZ Nuts?

Up next: Kathryn tells us about her first two races in Belgium and explains what the heck DZ Nuts is.

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