Some people never forget where they came from.
So, with a few of life’s lessons and an Olympic bronze medal in her pocket, Kirkland native Jill Kintner returned to Juanita High School to “give back” and share her experiences at this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
Shuffling in to Mr. Tarantola’s Friday-morning health class, Juanita High School students fretted about homework and reading assignments. But instead of learning about the cardiovascular system, or some other body function Olympian Jill Kintner brought in video of her medal-round race last month and clips of her training for the BMX event at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
Dressed in jeans, a blue “USA” sweatshirt and gold Nikes, she gave the class a picture of success and the formula to reach it. With her boyfriend Bryn Atkinson standing at the back of the class, she acknowledged her family and background giving her the means to eventually compete in competitive mountain bike and BMX racing.
“There’s a lot that goes into actually accomplishing a goal, like so many pieces of a puzzle,” she said. “Each race, you learn something.”
Growing up in Juanita, the Rebels alumna remembered picking up BMX racing with her brother in a neighborhood dominated by boys. The juvenile BMXers raced on local curbs, ditches, off custom-built ramps and on undeveloped land. She said she was inspired by the early 80s BMX cult movie “Rad” and adopted the star’s racing number — 33 — as her own.
Sticking with BMX and later “Four-Cross” Mountain bike racing, however, proved a challenge. A talented Juanita High School soccer player, she said she would often arrive late to soccer games due to BMX competitions earlier in the day.
“So they’d bench me,” she said. “You’re always going to make sacrifices for what you love.”
Earlier this year in training, Kintner tore her ACL — an injury that threatened to knock her out of qualifying for the Olympic competition. But instead of giving up she pressed on with a knee brace and wore it all the way to her bronze medal. A perseverance, she said, inspired by her motto: “You’ve got to go where the riding is good.”
“It was the best track I’ve ever been to,” she said. Racing in Beijing was “the craziest moment of my life.”
As Kintner spoke about the highs and lows of the past year in preparation for the Olympics, her bronze medal was passed by classmates around the room. She also described meeting a number of fellow competitors in the Olympic Village, the competitions and her race for a medal.
Racing on a purpose-built BMX track with a 40-foot starting ramp, racers reached speeds of up to 38 miles per hour and zipped over the jumps and around the circuit in less than a minute.
“Did you guys see the Olympics?” she asked. “What did you think?”
The answer came from a teen at the back of the room.
“It was pretty tight,” the student said.