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Kristen Faulkner goes from Alaska to Harvard rowing to venture capital to Olympic cycling

Alaskan Kristen Faulkner is a Harvard graduate, a junior world championships medalist in rowing and a former venture capitalist who quit her job in 2021 to pursue cycling full-time.

Now she’s going to the Olympics.

Faulkner, 31, was named to the U.S. Olympic track cycling roster for Paris in the team pursuit, a medal event for the U.S. at the last three Games.

The team pursuit roster of five also includes reigning Olympic omnium champ Jennifer Valente — who previously qualified for the omnium in Paris by winning last year’s world championships.

LIST: U.S. athletes qualified for Paris Olympics

Plus Chloé Dygert, who is set to race on the track and the road for a second consecutive Olympics; Lily Williams, who like Valente and Dygert was on the Tokyo Olympic pursuit squad that took bronze and Olivia Cummins, who like Faulkner is an Olympic rookie.

Valente and Williams will partner in the madison, too.

Grant Koontz fills the lone men’s spot that the U.S qualified for Paris. He will race the omnium.

Faulkner’s story begins in the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.

Homer, Alaska’s residents have included singer Jewel, 2004 Olympians wrestler Tela O’Donnell and rower Stacey Borgman and Tom Bodett, the man behind the Motel 6 ad line, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

“We spent our summers hiking, fishing, making homemade rasberry jam, and competing at local swim meets,” Faulkner wrote. “I learned the value of hard work as a kid working in my parents’ hotel and restaurant. I worked hard in school because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life cleaning toilets and checking in guests :).”

For high school, she flew nearly 5,000 miles to Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, a boarding school whose alums include two U.S. presidents, Bill Belichick and Humphrey Bogart.

There, she swam and ran for the Big Blue and was introduced to competitive rowing. Before graduating, she was already a world junior silver medalist with the U.S. women’s eight.

She completed her Harvard bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2016. Then she moved to New York City to begin a career in finance. One day in Central Park, she attended a free, introductory women’s cycling clinic.

“I showed up in running shorts and sneakers, and we learned how to clip in and ride around cones,” she wrote. “A few weeks later I won my first race, and that’s when I knew I wanted to see how far I could go in the sport.”

After moving to Silicon Valley to work for Threshold Ventures, Faulkner made professional cycling a second career in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she competed primarily in Zwift races that first season, including a virtual Tour de France, according to USA Cycling.

Then in 2021, she made cycling her full-time job and moved to Girona, Spain.

“I realized that the worst-case scenario was actually not being broke and without a job,” she said on the “Choose the Hard Way” podcast in 2023. “The worst-case scenario was being 80 years old and looking back and being like, wow, I really wish I’d done that.”

Most top-level cycling races are held in Europe. Faulkner won stages at some of them, despite missing time: in early 2022 due to a concussion, then in 2023 with a fractured tibia after getting hit by a car while training, plus a blood clot in her lung.

On May 15, she placed second in the U.S. road cycling time trial championships, missing an Olympic spot by 11 seconds in a 21-mile race. Olympic triathlete Taylor Knibb won in the second road cycling race of her professional career.

“Sometimes you have a great race,” Faulkner posted two days later, “and things still don’t go your way.”

Faulkner’s Olympic hopes remained on the track, where she did have team pursuit experience from February.

“I dreamed of competing in the Olympics ever since I was 8 years old, and I saw it on TV,” Faulkner said in a press release announcing the team. “This is the biggest dream I’ve ever had, and it’s finally come true!”