Kerry Litka: Dynamite in a Small Package
She may be slight of stature, but she has excelled as a triathlete and bike racer.
Over the years, the question, "Who do you want to become?" has frequently appeared in Keene State's admissions materials. While some students enter college with clear career goals, others need a little bit of time to sift through the numerous majors and opportunities.
As a self-made athlete, Kerry Litka '99 subscribes to the same theory when it comes to sports. After sampling a variety of athletic pursuits, she finally found her calling as a professional bike racer and triathlete. "I don't know what it was that made me want to do this," she said. "I can't figure it out!"
Coming out of high school, Litka didn't consider herself much of an athlete. Standing 4 feet 11 inches and under 100 pounds, Litka, although interested in sports, decided to major in sports management with a concentration in health fitness. Her goal, she said, was "to learn how to make other people good athletes." Although she had no intention of competing in college, Litka still wanted to do a sport. Encouraged to play rugby by a KSC orientation staffer (who was also president of the club), Litka decided to give the sport a try. "I lasted a whole season without an injury, but that was mainly because whenever I saw the ball, I ran the opposite way," she said.
Then, recruited to join a track team that had been depleted by injuries, Litka determined to make herself into a competitive athlete. She gives Coach Peter Thomas '77 a lot of credit for helping her to find a sport to channel her competitiveness. By her junior year, Litka was running personal records (PRs) in all of her events. "Kerry was dynamite in a small package," said Thomas. "She had a tough attitude. And you have to be a tough kid to be a good runner."
Born in Salem, New Hampshire, Litka grew up in Topsfield, Massachusetts, and moved to Sanbornton, New Hampshire, at the age of 10. It would be a stretch to say that she was an athlete in the making. Playing on her fourth-grade baseball team, Litka was assigned to right field because the ball never went out there. In middle school she tried field hockey and softball. "I was actually more interested in acting and singing, but the cool kids did sports, and I succumbed to peer pressure," she said.
Competing for the Owls ignited Litka's competitive flame. After graduating in 1999, she landed a teaching job at Winnisquam High. In her free time she became more serious about running until sciatica sent her to the sidelines. Frustrated by her inability to run, Litka started riding her mountain bike to stay in shape. The more she rode, the more she liked it. After reaching her limit in running, Litka had found her next athletic challenge.
The transition from running to biking is both mental and physical. Quad muscles must be built up and racing strategy learned. "You can be as strong as anybody, but if you don't know how to read a race, you're not going to be successful," said Litka. She found that being small has its pros and cons. While Litka enjoys a distinctive advantage climbing hills, her lack of weight is a deterrent on the descent.
Immersed in the sport, Litka decided to give herself five years to see what she could accomplish. Litka's breakthrough year was 2003. Racing with a local team from Nashua, she won the prestigious Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Stage Race, earning category III racer status (one level shy of elite). In 2006, Litka was invited to join the Terry Precision Riders, a team out of Rochester, New York. She was a professional.
Litka dedicated herself to the sport. She has traveled all over the country competing in races and spent some time early in 2008 training in South Africa. Although she has never won a race, she has posted several top 10 finishes and has been pleased with her consistency and improvement. "It finally started to sink in that, OK, maybe I'm not bad at this sport," said Litka.
Using her stature to good advantage, Litka started her own website, www.kerrylitka.com, where she offers advice, training, and coaching tips, including how to fit small women for bicycles. She has written articles for several magazines and has become a sought-after interview for writers wanting a woman's perspective on bike racing.
Slowed down by injuries last winter, Litka decided to take another detour and focus on triathlons. She started taking swimming lessons and targeted the Timberman Triathlon in Gilford, New Hampshire, last summer as a gauge of her progress. In a field of more 1,000 competitors, Litka finished fifth overall in the women's field. "I had so much fun this year racing in no-pressure situations," said Litka. "It makes me real hungry for the 2009 season."
In addition to balancing her cycling and triathlon careers, Litka will have a few more things on her plate. After teaching for eight years at Winnisquam High, Litka has been accepted to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire, where she'll major in kinesiology. She will also be the assistant cross-country coach at Daniel Webster College in Nashua. She'd eventually like to get an NCAA coaching job. Always thinking big, Litka, 32, has no shortage of energy or five-year plans.
"Who do you want to become?" Kerry Litka is still deciding.