It may surprise you to know that Kristin Armstrong, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in bicycle racing, didn’t start racing until the age of 29. “As a kid, my banana seat bicycle was just to get to my friend’s house,” she says. Her history-making back- to-back-to-back turn at the top of the road racing heap actually began when she decided to start riding her bike to work to get in shape.
“It was after college,” Armstrong Savola recalls, “and I thought, ‘I have to work out.’ I was working at the West Y, working so many hours … man, I’m not fit anymore.” In every drawer, employees had stashed goodies, she says. “There were bagels and cream cheese, M&Ms … so, all of a sudden I thought, ‘I need to take care of myself. Maybe I should ride my bike to work.’ I remember thinking after a 12-mile bike ride: ‘Now, I won’t have to work out for two days,’” she says, smiling.
Armstrong Savola, who had once thought her swimming skills or her prowess as a triathlete would get her to the Olympics, eventually got around to the sport in which she truly excelled and the one in which she would make history. Her breakout moment was also a serendipitous one. “If it wasn’t for the Women’s Challenge, I wouldn’t have become a racer,” she says.
So, it was after her four-year stint as director of aquatics at the West Family YMCA and during her time as an account executive at Oliver Russell. It was in early summer 2002 when the now defunct Women’s Challenge race rolled around. “I got talked into it,” Armstrong Savola says. “My overall finish in the stage race was 15th with my best place finish being second on the last stage. By the end of the week I had three professional contract offers.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Growing up, Armstrong Savola was a military brat. “From kindergarten to 12th grade I was only in America for a total of three years,” she says. “I graduated high school in Okinawa, Japan.”
The family made their way to Idaho – her mother had grown up in Idaho Falls. She ended up in Moscow and attended the University of Idaho, getting a bachelor’s degree in sports physiology. World traveler that she was, she remembers being a bit taken aback when her first Idaho boyfriend admitted he had never seen the ocean.
Today, she loves where she lives, in Boise, with husband, Joe, and their son, six-year-old Lucas. “He dictates my fun,” she says.
“That’s why I live in Boise. I like to be with normal people, I like to be with balanced people, intelligent people.”
When Armstrong Savola is not in training, she hangs her hat these days as director of community health at St. Luke’s. There, she is not a world-class racer; she is a dedicated health professional dedicated to bridging the gap between community organizations focused on disease prevention and physicians.
“At St. Luke’s we’re trying to take health outside the hospital walls,” she says.
Part of her work takes her to Idaho communities at speaking engagements where she tells her story to young people in school rooms, employees in company cafeterias and executives in board rooms. Often, she hears feedback. When someone tells her they were going to nix riding their bike because it was raining – but then thought “that wouldn’t stop Kristin” and rode their bike anyway, it makes her day. “When the average normal person becomes inspired, that always makes me so happy.”
Armstrong Savola says eating a pumpkin chai muffin from Big City Coffee is a guilty pleasure. “The owner renamed it The Gold Medal Muffin because I ate there so much,” she says, laughing. “They’re as big as your head. Baked goods are my weakness.”
One of her favorite things to do is to go on family bike rides. “We ride on the Kristin Armstrong Children’s Bike Trail,” she says. The trail loops around The Boise Hills Park and Armstrong Savola hopes it is just the first of its kind. “My belief is that every park has a perimeter where there is unused space. I don’t understand why we can’t put bike trails for kids in those spaces.”
Who does she look to for inspiration? “I am not inspired by just one person,” Armstrong Savola says. “Inspiration comes from those who surround me at that time of my life … if you’re having self- doubt, it could be that person who makes you believe again.
“Working at a great hospital in Boise and being a mom has been my secret weapon. It provides me balance and it keeps me on track and it keeps me super focused.
“I’m a very Type A person.”