How UA alumna aims for gold in 2021: Her journey to becoming an Olympic athlete

Arizona cyclist finds
Arizona cyclist finds her way onto track, in contention for Olympics

University of Arizona alumna Christina Birch sits on her family’s cattle ranch in Montana preparing for the day where she finally lives out her dream of becoming an Olympic track cyclist representing Team USA on the biggest stage possible.

For the upcoming Summer Olympics, Birch is one of nine women to be assigned to the Track Cycling Long Team of the countries and her experience is unlike any other.

Birch earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Mathematics from the UA in 2008. But cycling was only a sport at that period, as she’d only competed with the Arizona TriCats in a few competitions before graduation.

UA alumna aims for gold in 2021: Her journey to becoming an ...
UA alumna aims for gold in 2021.

That hobby grew into something bigger when she joined the cycling team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Cyclocross as her primary discipline. Birch was pursuing a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering when she realized that her dreams were simply beyond the classroom.

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“I got hooked,” Birch said. “Here’s all these people gallivanting around in the mud in the middle of the New England winter. I was like ‘Yes, I wanna do that.’ It was such a good community. I fell in love with it and kept going.”

Before moving across the country to California to train on a velodrome, Birch would graduate from MIT with that Ph.D. in 2015, a cycling arena specifically designed for track biking. She also wanted to use her degrees to get a position at the University of California, Riverside, teaching bioengineering to pay for her school.

“I was fitting in training sessions in the parking lot on a trainer next to my car,” she said. “Having full command of a full set of classes and having 90 students in the class expecting you to give them something worth their time every Monday, Wednesday, Friday … that’s really challenging.”

Birch was racing in Europe when she made her decision to take a sabbatical in 2018 and walk away from teaching to pursue her passions full-time.

“Since my dad was there to see it, it was one of the most memorable times in my racing career,” she said. “He was shouting at one of the velodrome turns and I got to wave at him as I passed by. It was so cool.

Since the outset of her career as a member of the Arizona TriCats, Bill has become “number one follower” of Christina. She also has a shot of the two together at her first triathlon at the UA.

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