A pair of Marian cyclists prepare to compete in the Tokyo Games.

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Felicia Stancil and Coryn Rivera have taken similar paths in life and although they have experienced personal twists and turns along the way, the duo have always reached the same high point in their respective careers: Olympic Games.

Stancil and Rivera, alumni of the famous Marian University cycling team, will represent the United States later this month at the Tokyo Olympics. Stancil will participate in BMX races, Rivera in road races.

Although Rivera graduated from Marian three years before Stancil, the two see each other as close friends. Bound by Bruno Mars’ love of competition and concerts, their careers have taken them across the world, but Tokyo offers a chance to meet again.

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“She’s awesome,” Stancil said of her former college teammate. “Coryn is so funny. We practice different disciplines but we are good friends. We went to, like, two concerts the year we were together at Marian.

Seeing Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars in person would be the highlight of a lot of people’s young lives, but for Stancil and Rivera, going for gold has been something they each wanted since they were girls.

“We are made from the same fabric,” Rivera said.

Stancil and Rivera found their love for racing when they were young. Initiated to the sport by their fathers, Stancil’s father was a professional BMX rider. Unsurprisingly, little Felicia was good at the sport, winning her first national title at 6 and her first World Championship at 9.

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“It definitely brought us together more,” Stancil said. “The simple act of traveling together and doing something we both love while traveling the world has brought us closer together. ”

By the time Stancil arrived at Marian, she was already one of the best amateurs in the world. She was also one of the toughest, having suffered five fractures and a punctured lung two months before graduation.

Marian University cyclist Felicia Stancil (middle) wins the United States' first Pan American Games gold medal, winning the women's BMX final on July 11, 2015.

What she needed was the chance to challenge herself and receive the guidance she needed to reach the next level. His trainer, Dean Peterson, was amazed by Stancil’s determination.

It never shocked Peterson to see Stancil training in freezing winds as she drove through the Major Taylor Velodrome. The desire to always reach another level was what he admired so much about her… and why Stancil reminded him so much of Rivera.

“The similarities they both have is motivation,” Peterson said. “Go beyond what we would do to train, support, etc. You would often see them go beyond.”

When Rivera thinks of her stay in Marian, the thought of Peterson’s famous bird calls comes to mind. Hailing from Tustin, California, Indianapolis was a new experience for Rivera. Having a trainer like Peterson helps him acclimatize to his new environment.

“These were some of the most important years of my life,” Rivera said. “I’m happy with everything I was able to do there.

Rivera has been part of several national championship teams and has competed in track, mountain biking, cyclocross and road competitions, winning titles in each discipline. Rivera was the first Marian cyclist to win an individual endurance mountain bike title and was the first American to win the Tour of Flanders.

But she still remembers the bird calls.

“While studying at the university, his support was unconditional,” Rivera said. “He was someone I could always count on.”

Peterson’s support followed Rivera and Stancil throughout college and even postgraduate. Stancil was ranked eighth in the world in 2016, but only made it to the USA squad as a substitute, while Rivera herself narrowly missed the Rio games.

In the five-plus years since missing the Rio games, Stancil and Rivera have made the strides necessary to be ready for Tokyo. In 2019, Stancil was the pro of the year and mathematically earned his place in the team based on the BMX points system.

“I’m just starting to feel these emotions like I’ve known I’ve qualified for quite some time,” Stancil said. “But after this last race and just talking to everyone, I’m charged. As I feel all the emotions, my next race is really at the Tokyo Olympics. “

Rivera was part of the 2017 UCI team time trial world champion team, winning the gold medal with her teammates in Bergen, Norway, she was part of the US team from June 2020.

Unfortunately for Rivera, she will be deprived of one of the most important people in her life when she makes the trip to Japan.

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Wally Rivera, Rivera’s father and first cycling coach, died in March from COVID-19. Wally was on the front lines of providing relief to others as a healthcare worker. He was one of Coryn’s biggest supporters and had the plane tickets packed.

“It was a dream for me and for him to go to the Olympics,” said Rivera. “Thinking of him will definitely give me extra motivation to make him proud.”

While Stancil and Rivera’s route to Tokyo diverged in places, much of the trip was the same. Both were introduced to the sport by their fathers and trained in Marian. There is nothing the two want more than to bring home the gold. Soon they will have their chance.

“The way these two are wired is special,” Peterson said. “They worked so hard for it and I have confidence in them.”

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