Friday, November 16 , 2018, 6:20 am | Fair 47º


Santa Barbara’s Team Kalyra on Track to Race Across America

Jill Gasswill, Sonia Ross, Lisa Tonello and Avalon Jenkins-Balker are rolling on a quest to break a record and raise money for Girls Inc.

Strong, smart and bold may not be enough to describe the members of Team Kalyra Women’s Cycling of Santa Barbara, who will set off Saturday on a quest to break the record for Race Across America.

Four local women — Jill Gasswill, Sonia Ross, Lisa Tonello and Avalon Jenkins-Balker — on bicycles will race 24 hours a day across 3,000 miles to raise money for Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring confidence in girls ages 4 though 18. As the only all women team in the competition, the racers hope to inspire young girls to “dream big.”

“Girls Incorporated of Greater Santa Barbara is honored to be collaborating with these amazing riders,” said Beth Cleary, public relations and administrative coordinator for Girls Inc. “What a great example of inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold.”

Race Across America is known as one of the toughest bicycling endurance races in the world. From riding in 116-degree weather in the desert to riding alongside buggies in Amish country, the team has to be prepared for anything. The race begins in Oceanside and ends on the opposite side of the country, in Annapolis, Md.

Team Kalyra, named after sponsor Kalyra Winery, consists of two teams of two women each. A crew of 16 volunteers drives alongside the racers to ensure their safety and sustenance. Each woman rides for 90 minutes and rests for 90 minutes until they leapfrog to the finish line six days later. Their goal is to break the women’s record of six days, 12 hours and 28 minutes.

Meet the Crew

“We feed ‘em and fuel ‘em,” said Tokie Shynk, spokeswoman for the Kalyra Crew. “The racers burn 8,000 calories per day!”

When they’re not voicing directions on a megaphone or ensuring the racers are drinking enough fluids, the crew rotates on three- to four-hour rest breaks. She said the racers follow a 90-minute leapfrog strategy because the body doesn’t need as much recovery time after these short spurts.

“I’m a little nervous about sleep deprivation,” Shynk said. “But it’s a race; there is no time to get tired. When I wake up from my nap, my first thought is, ‘Where are my girls?!’”

Shynk is the director of critical care at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. With four nurses and one emergency room doctor on the crew, the four women are in good hands.

“Their support is huge, and in return, I would walk a mile across hot coals for them — or ride my bike 24 hours a day, for six days,” racer Avalon Jenkins-Balker said. “I’m in the presence of a great team with Team Kalyra. I want to be worthy of my place on the team.”

Meet the Racers

Don’t let the pink outfits fool you — these women are top athletes who know the meaning of endurance.

Gass raced in the 2007 and 2008 Race Across America. She also won the 2009 state and national championship titles for Tandem Road Race and Tandem Time Trial. Gass works as a critical care nurse at Cottage Hospital and is the owner of Revolution Coaching. In her free time, she plans their winning strategy for RAAM 2010.

Ross competed in Race Across America in 1999, 2007 and 2008. She held the title of 2008 Masters National Road Race Champion, and is the 2009 State and National Road Race Tandem and Time Trial Tandem champion. She has a private massage therapy practice in Santa Barbara, and is an instructor at the Santa Barbara Body Therapy Institute. She says she can no longer go an entire hour without thinking about RAAM at least once.

Tonello has been an avid cyclist and competitor for more than 20 years. She is a much sought-after cycling mechanic and consultant. She raced in the 2007 and 2008 Race Across America events. She is also a multiple national and state champion.

“Bring it on,” she says of the grueling challenge ahead of her.

Jenkins-Balker spent the mid-1980s track racing as a national team member on velodromes throughout the world. After the 1988 Olympics, where she was an alternate, she took a 20-year break to pursue a career in the architectural ceramic industry and start a family. In 2008, she came back to the competitive cycling world and joined Team Kalyra. She says the bicycle is a powerful tool for positive change, and she’s passionate about inspiring women to see what’s possible with determination and persistence.

“I keep the thought in my head, ‘What can I do that will matter in 100 years?’” Jenkins-Balker said. “My pain or fatigue won’t matter, but my effort might just inspire someone to attempt something big.”

Click here for the latest updates on the race. Click here to make a donation to Team Kalyra and Girls Inc.

Noozhawk intern Andrea Ellickson, a UCSB graduate, is a journalism student at SBCC. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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