More than a decade ago, Crystal Anthony’s younger brothers, Josh and Jesse, were making national headlines in the rough-and-tumble world of cyclocross racing. They won multiple titles as teens in Beverly.
Meanwhile, she ran track and cross-country at Gordon College in Wenham before moving to Honduras to teach.
Fast-forward a dozen years.
Josh, now a 31-year-old Billerica resident, still races cyclocross as an amateur, but he keeps busy as a mechanical engineer, a husband, and a new father. Jesse, 28, lives in California and rides bicycles professionally for the Optum/Kelly Benefit Strategies Pro Cycling Team, where his focus is road racing, not cyclocross.
And Crystal? She is teaching Spanish and French at Manchester-Essex Middle School. And she is now the undisputed gem of the family’s cyclocross collection. Thanks to her fourth-place finish at the US National Cyclocross Championships earlier this month in Colorado, the 33-year-old Anthony earned a place on the national team and will compete at the world championships Saturday and Sunday in the Netherlands.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I remember watching the Olympics. And it was my dream — it didn’t matter what sport — to be in the Olympics,” Anthony said during a recent lunch break.
“Cross obviously isn’t an Olympic sport yet, but being able to wear the Stars and Stripes and represent my country has been a childhood dream of mine, and this is the next best thing. I’m very excited.”
Shortly after her return from a two-year teaching stint in Honduras, Anthony began competing in marathons, and came within 16 seconds of qualifying for the Olympic trials. She then turned her attention to triathlons, even turning pro for one season. During that stretch, her brothers kept racing cyclocross — Jesse professionally — and she was intrigued.
“When I was training for the marathon, I remember jumping into a cross race in Canton,” Anthony recalled.
“When you’re a marathoner, you think you’re invincible and that you can do anything. So I jumped into this cross race, and I got dropped within the first quarter-mile. So I guess that beating, or humbling, really hooked me on the sport, because there’s a lot more to it than it might seem on face value. It took some time to develop that explosive power. It’s obviously in the family genes.”
Jesse said his sister is being too modest.
“Though it’s usually beneficial to start early in any sport, Crystal has just gotten stronger and smarter as a cyclist as she has gotten more involved,” he said. “That’s just a testament to her incredible talent and dedication.”
Anthony admitted she was initially intimidated by the success of her younger brothers. But the more she raced, the more she developed her skill set, and the more her confidence grew.
“Cyclocross is a unique cycling discipline in that it rewards athletes with a balance of skills: speed, balance, tactics, technical ability, etc.,” said Josh.
“Crystal has a natural drive and tenacity that has been combined in the last few years with increasingly impressive technical skills. . . Her combination of power and bike-handling skills now make her a contender on any type of course.”
That’s significant, because cyclocross course conditions can be notoriously unpredictable. Clear skies, rain, snow, sleet, hail, rocks, roots, dirt, grass, mud and sand are all fair game.
“There’s always a different challenge, every race. I like that you determine your own fate,” she said. “You’re out there racing as hard as you can, for the whole race.
“There aren’t as many tactics, or waiting around, like road cycling. But I also like the adverse conditions, the ice and the snow and mud. You never quite know what’s going to happen.”
Like her brother Jesse, Anthony is sponsored by the Optum/Kelly Benefit Strategies team.
“I think the bolstered team support has really helped her achieve the level she rode at this year,” said Jesse.
Crystal also noted that the sport — with its difficult but mercifully short (usually one hour) races — lends itself to a longer competitive career. Reigning World Cup and United States champion Katie Compton, for example, is 35.
“There was a race at Northampton this year, and the podium [of top finishers] was Laura Van Gilder, who is late 40s, myself, and Emma White, who is 16,” said Anthony.
“So the age span really gave me a chuckle. I hope I’m racing that well 16 years from now.”
She says that she always will be competing in something.
“With cross, it doesn’t require as many hours per week. It takes maybe 12 hours a week, maybe 15 at the most. It’s a more laid back, fun, and energizing atmosphere, and that lends itself for doing it longer,” she said.
Anthony acknowledged that family support is critical to her success. When their schedules allow, Crystal and Josh train together, while Jesse lends coaching tips.
“The best advice I can give her is, one, keep a good balance in life between cycling and other interests and pursuits — this helps keep it sustainable,” said Josh. “Two, enjoy the great moments and experiences that come along as you travel and take part in races around the world. They can be once-in-a-lifetime.
“And three, sprint to the parking lot, which means never give up until the race is over,” he said.
With luck, the Hoogerheide course will serve up a nice mix of snow, rain and mud this weekend. Perfect conditions for a language arts teacher from Beverly.
“Crystal set out early in the season with the goal of making the World Championship team, so to see her accomplish that goal speaks volumes of her dedication and intensity,” said Jesse. “She definitely has the mental and physical strength to perform very well at the World Championships.”
Beverly resident Tim Johnson, a six-time national champion and member of the Cannondale/CyclocrossWorld.com team, will also be competing in the Netherlands. He was the first US rider to stand on a UCI World Championships podium when he raced to a silver medal at the 1999 World Championships in Slovakia.