DeKalb, IL — Hannah Roberts woke up to her mother screaming early last year telling her to check Instagram. She opened her phone and found that she had qualified for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“It was an amazing feeling because leaving 2018 I had a really bad season, I was struggling a lot with depression and anxiety, and I made so many changes in my life, going into 2019, and I had a phenomenal season,” Roberts said. “I won almost every single event that year and it was just like seeing all my hard work pay off.”
The 19-year-old Michigan native didn’t expect to get the announcement so soon but she ended up becoming the first American to qualify for BMX freestyle, which makes its debut at the Tokyo Games this month.
Shortly after the announcement came that Roberts would be heading to the Olympics, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As a gold medal hopeful since 2019, the pandemic gave her more time to practice but also put more pressure on her to perform well during the Games.
“Obviously, nobody could have foreseen the pandemic and all that stuff, but with an extra year, it's definitely a lot more pressure; a lot more people expect me to do well,” Roberts said. “Sometimes I have to kind of just not think about that as much.”
“I would like a medal but just being there, being on the biggest stage is amazing and a big accomplishment,” she added. “If a medal comes with that then I guess it's just icing on the cake.”
Roberts’ love for BMX grew fast over time. She started the sport at 8 and 10 years later would qualify for the Olympics. Growing up, Roberts played many sports but liked the independence that BMX racing brought. She learned about the sport one day after watching an X Games event.
“I told my dad that I wanted to try it, and he got me my first bike and I just put in a lot of practice,” she said. “It's always been my main focus since I started and the rest is history.”
Keeping her schoolwork a main priority while also trying to further her BMX career wasn’t always easy. On weekdays, Roberts would ride for three to four hours a day and on the weekends it increased to nine hours a day. Roberts said she remembers getting back from an event at 1 a.m. in the morning of her junior year and then waking up before 7 a.m. to take the SAT.
“That's when I really started to feel the pressure and then senior year, I missed so much school, but my school was super good with me and I had really good communication with my teachers and they helped me graduate with a really good GPA,” Roberts said.
Roberts stays motivated with her mantra of reminding her that she’s always trying to be the best rider she can be and knowing there's always room for improvement. When the Olympics begin on July 23, she is excited to simply take in the experience and meet the other athletes.
“If you have any kind of goal, no matter what sport it is, you’ve got to give it everything you have, you can't slack off and still expect everything to come from it,” she said.