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Monday, May 27, 2024 — Houston, TX

The Dahlins turn Beer Bike into a family affair

Wiess College sophomore Kelly Dahlin stands with her parents, Mike and Marla Dahlin ’91. All three biked for Wiess this year. Marlo Wilcox / Thresher

By Kathleen Ortiz     4/9/24 11:54pm

As Marla Dahlin finished her first lap around the bike track early Saturday afternoon, she could hear chants coming from the Wiess College tent.

“Kelly’s mom! Kelly’s mom! Kelly’s mom!” 

The Dahlin family made up more than 10% of Wiess’s bike team this year, as Wiess sophomore Kelly Dahlin successfully convinced her parents, alums Mike and Marla Dahlin ’91, to bike on the alumni team for the second year in a row. 

“Beer Bike was something that we remember fondly,” Mike said. “It was nice that [Kelly] wanted us to be there both to see her do it and also [that] she was willing to have us and encouraged us to ride with the alumni. It was nice that that was something that she wanted to share.”

Marla and Mike both biked for Wiess when they were students, but Mike said that they never wanted to pressure Kelly to do the same.

“We knew that [Rice] was great for us, but we wanted to make sure that she picked a place that she wanted to go,” Mike said. “We were super excited when she did decide to go to Rice, and Beer Bike was part of that package.”

However, whether they meant to or not, Mike and Marla had been preparing Kelly for Beer Bike for a long time. They always had bikes around the house. When Kelly was young, her parents would put one of her little bikes next to their indoor trainer, so Kelly could bike alongside them. 

“We’ve still got videos of her in Austin doing loops just around the porch,” Mike said. “Looking back, just terrifyingly fast. We’ve also got some videos of her very young biking at the parks in Austin, so it’s what she’s always done and liked.”

It wasn’t until Kelly was 13 years old that she started to get more serious about biking. She and her mother took a class at the Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome to try track cycling. As soon as they finished the class, her mother went on Craigslist and bought herself and Kelly a track bike to share.

“I’ve been in love with it ever since then,” Kelly said. “That’s what I do every summer. I love biking in circles.”

Beyond biking, the velodrome was where Kelly said she found a tight-knit community. She started volunteering at track cycling summer camps just a year after she attended her first camp. By 2021, she was running the camps. She still goes back to Redmond, Wash. every summer to continue running them at the same velodrome where she started.

“The biggest thing we value is that she found her people there — that she was happiest there,” Mike said. “She would spend as many hours at the velodrome as she could, you know, biking, volunteering and just hanging out with people there.”

In her teens, Kelly began to bike competitively. In 2021, she competed in the junior national championship and won the Individual Pursuit for women aged 15-18 and Points Race for women aged 15-18. Beer Bike, on the other hand, Kelly said, has much lower stakes.

“Does it really matter how fast I can ride two laps? No,” Kelly said. “But the joy and excitement that I can give my teammates, friends, fellow Wiessmen and honestly myself, by being fast and putting on a good show, is worth much more than the temporary pain in my legs.”

Kelly makes it a point to tell her teammates that Beer Bike is just for fun despite the pressure she may put on herself. This year, she said she was most proud of how everyone else on the team performed. 

“[The Wiess bike team] all did so good, and they’re all so fast and athletic and awesome,” Kelly said. “If it was my first year ever clipping into a bike, I would be nowhere near that. I would be terrified.”

Kelly started her Beer Bike day off in the pit for the Wiess alumni team, where she helped launch both of her parents for their laps. Then, she was both the first and last biker for Wiess’s women’s team, biking four laps in total.

“There was a group of people around us who were watching that, and they were just like, ‘Oh, Wiess just wrapped that up,’” Marla said. “They’re like, ‘It’s done for you. Look at that.’”

Marla and Mike were stationed in the alumni area at the first turn. While they may not have been able to hear chants from the Wiess tent, they said they did hear other alumni in awe of how fast Kelly was racing.

“[After Kelly’s first laps] I know [there’s] the whole team to go, and I know a lot can happen in a race like that,” Marla said. “It was just funny to hear the people around me talk about the gap she opened up.”

While the results haven’t been announced yet, Kelly said that was never what really mattered to her. 

“I really hope that everybody does know how proud I am of them and how much progress they’ve made,” Kelly said. “And I hope that I’ve been a good mentor. The thing I’m most proud of is just how everybody else did.”

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