Krystal Albright shows off her Athlete of the Year award and the Ohio State Champion 2017 Cycling trophy she won earlier this fall. She trains on her bike by riding around her neighborhood. She holds the title of Ohio State Champion 2017 for cycling. This is her fourth year as champion as she also held the title in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Judy Wells/Paulding County Progress
Krystal Albright shows off her Athlete of the Year award and the Ohio State Champion 2017 Cycling trophy she won earlier this fall. She trains on her bike by riding around her neighborhood. She holds the title of Ohio State Champion 2017 for cycling. This is her fourth year as champion as she also held the title in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Judy Wells/Paulding County Progress
By JUDY WELLS

When Krystal Albright hops on her bicycle to ride in a competition, she’s determined to win. And when she raced in the Special Olympics meet in October in Columbus, that determination paid off. Krystal brought home gold medals in all three divisions – the five- three- and one-mile classes – of the race. She was also recognized as the Athlete of the Year in Ohio.

That award recognizes the athlete who inspires others with true skill, courage, sharing and joy.

Currently, about 26,000 athletes compete in Special Olympics in Ohio.

Krystal began competing in Special Olympics in 2010 and has done well every year since. In 2011, she placed third in the state. In 2012, she came in second, and the next year was the top rider in the female division.

Because of some health concerns, she didn’t place in 2014, but came back in 2015 and took second place. Last year and again this year, she was the top rider in her division.

Thirty-year-old Krystal, who lives in Paulding with her parents and works at PC Workshop, was diagnosed with hydrocephalus when she was 6 months old. She also has epilepsy, cerebral palsy and scoliosis. She’s had 21 surgeries, mostly on her brain, and has had a partial lobectomy. In February of this year, she was diagnosed with ocular migraines, in which she loses partial vision in one eye without warning.

“It’s really scary to be riding and getting ready to pass someone and not be able to see,” she said recently. “So far, I haven’t gone completely blind, but I’ve come pretty close.”

Her vision returns after several minutes of rest. Doctors say there is nothing they can do to alleviate her condition.

Kevin Albright, Krystal’s father, is her cycling coach and her mom, Nancy, is her chaperone. Following area Special Olympics competitions, winning riders compete in statewide races every fall.

“All three of the races are run on the same day, rain or shine,” Nancy explained. “The Special Olympics committee rents a place for the statewide competition every year, and they hold it no matter what the weather. It goes from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon and is never postponed or delayed.”

Nancy explained that the five-mile race is held first.

“The winner of that race gets a leader T-shirt,” she said. “That makes it easier for the spectators to keep an eye on that person as they ride. You can tell if the leader is still out front, even when they’re across the track.”

She said the three-mile and one-mile races are run next, with riders getting a cumulative score from all three.

Krystal takes two bicycles with her to every competition, one with what she calls “skinny tires” and the other with wider tires for slippery or muddy conditions.

Her first bicycle was a Schwinn with fenders, but she has now progressed to a lighter-weight – and more expensive – Fuji racing bike.

“It’s an upright bike,” said Kevin. “She can’t ride the ones with the down-turned handlebars because they cause the nerves in her hands to go numb.”

On the weekend of the competition, Krystal was excited about representing Paulding County and was determined to bring home at least one gold medal.

“But it was really windy that day,” Nancy said. “We’d trained in all kinds of weather, but not in wind. We were afraid that would throw Krystal for a loop, but she managed just fine.”

She won a gold medal in all three races.

At the statewide competition in 2016, Krystal wrecked her bicycle and suffered from bruised muscles and bones.

“The doctors told us that bruised bones take longer to heal than broken bones,” Nancy said. “She was sore for a long, long time after that wreck.”

When the doctor examined her and asked how fast she was riding, Krystal replied, “I was going 17.2 miles an hour before I kicked it in gear to pass the girl in front of me!” Her doctor was astonished that her parents would even allow Krystal to ride, let alone to compete.

But just two weeks after her accident, Krystal took part in a Fort4Fitness ride that traveled from Fort Wayne to Antwerp and back to Fort Wayne. It took her five hours to ride the full distance, but she was determined to make it the whole way.

Earlier this fall, Krystal was honored by State Rep. Craig Riedel with a resolution that praised her for being the Ohio Special Olympics Cycling Champion of 2017. The resolution was presented during a House of Representatives Cabinet session.

“We got to tour the State House, go to lunch with Mr. Riedel, and go up in the cupola and sign our names on the wall,” Nancy said. “It was really an honor. Later, we got to sit in on a session of the Ohio Supreme Court.”

Then a few weeks later, the Albrights traveled back to Columbus where Krystal was presented with the Athlete of the Year award.

Krystal has shared the importance of Special Olympics by speaking to numerous groups.

“I asked Representative Riedel if he remembered us,” Nancy chuckled. “He said he certainly did and that it was an honor for him to present the award to such a fine athlete. He seemed to be really excited about seeing Krystal again.”

And what is Krystal’s favorite reward to herself each time she wins a meet or brings home another gold medal?

“I like to go to Burger King!” she said. “And I always take Little Debbie Nutty Buddies to eat after each race. I love those things!”