Alise Post thrives on adrenaline. It's no surprise since the 21-year-old Olympic BMX rider has been flying around dirt tracks since she first jumped on a bike at age 6.
But Post's success and meteoric rise to the top of the sport -- she won her first girls overall national championship at the age of 10 -- almost didn't happen. The first time she followed her older brother Nick to the top of the local course in Minnesota, she freaked out.
"I actually chickened out," said Post, who will compete in the women's BMX competition at the London Summer Games starting Wednesday. "I wouldn't do it. It was way too scary. I turned the dirt bike around and said, 'Yep, that's not happening, sorry.'"
But Cheryl and Mark Post knew their daughter, who excelled in gymnastics, had the family competition gene and wasn't going to give up easily. They urged Alise to try the track again.
"I went back the next week and I did it and I crashed and got that out of the way," Post said. "That first crash my brother just yelled at me to get back up and go and I got up and still got trekking. I was pretty stoked and then I loved it ever since. It's kind of funny how it kind of turned around.
"It turned into loving all adrenaline stuff."
Post hasn't looked back since that first crash. Nicknamed "The Beast," she won four girls overall national titles and finished her amateur career with more than 100 national victories and numerous local, state, regional and world titles. Just three months after turning 15, the minimum age to enter the pro category, Post became one of the youngest to win the pro championship. Post was voted Rookie Pro of the Year by BMXer magazine readers in 2006, becoming the first female to win the award. Along the way, Post also managed to be a typical teenage girl, obsessed with "Gossip Girl" and shopping.
The only accomplishment left for the 5-foot-2, 120-pound Post appears to be an Olympic medal. The goal looked like a strong possibility in 2008, when women's BMX racing made its debut in Beijing. Though Post was one of the top female BMX racers that year and would have likely been a lock for the U.S. team, she was only 17, two years shy of the minimum age requirement.
Post's coach, Sean Dwight, thinks the four years she's had to wait to reach the Olympics will ultimately help.
"She's appreciating where she's at right now and she's really embracing the challenges that are ahead of her," Dwight said. "It hasn't been an easy run through to the Olympics, and I don't think everybody has to have a super hard run, but I think a little bit of adversity to have to work through will serve them well in the end and that's what I'm hoping for with her."
With 2012 as a goal and a renewed focus on BMX racing (Post attended the University of San Diego for the 2009-10 academic year but put her education on hold to prepare for the Olympics), all signs pointed to London. All she had to do was keep up her training and stay healthy. But in a sport in which competitors start on the top of a hill and travel at speeds of 35 miles per hour, avoiding injury proved impossible.
In November 2010, Post broke her ankle, an injury which forced her to miss the national championships and the first half of 2011. After successful rehab, Post hoped to dominate in the 2011 UCI world championships. But days before the July competition, Post flew off her bike and over the handlebars, shredding her right knee. Post suffered a complete tear of the lateral collateral ligament, additional damage to the anterior cruciate ligament and a tear of the tendon which connects the hamstring to the bone.
Post missed the rest of 2011 and her Olympic dream was in jeopardy, with the London Games just more than a year away. She knew it would take everything she had, including support from her coach, her family and her boyfriend, Australian BMX superstar Sam Willoughby, to recover and get back into competition form.
"Once I assessed the situation and thought about it to myself, I thought, I know I can do this," Post said. "I'd recovered from my ankle. I'd been successful before. I'd been at the top of the American series and I knew that if I put my mind to it, at least I could give it a good shot. I just didn't want to let the injury beat me. I thought I could overcome this and if I could beat it, I would be a much stronger athlete because of it. And it ended up working out that way."
At the five-month mark of her rehab following surgery, Post left California for Australia to work with her coach on an intensive training regimen. Due to the injury, rehab and training time in Australia, Post missed many of the 2012 BMX races used to qualify for the two spots on the Olympic team. Since she likely wouldn't have enough points for the automatic berth, she relied on the U.S. coaches' discretionary selection slot.
On June 16, Post's selection to the U.S. team became official. Post is the second-ranked rider in the 2012 UCI Supercross World Cup standings, behind Australia's Caroline Buchanan.
"I'd be disappointed if she didn't medal," Dwight said. "That's what we're shooting for. I think she can win straight up, no doubt about it. She's one of only a handful of girls who can just charge down that gate. She really doesn't have any fear out there. She rides like a guy at times, which is a massive advantage in the girls' class."
Reaching the Olympics fulfills not only Post's dream, but her family's. BMX has become the Post family business over the years. Both of Alise's older brothers, Nick and Jeremy, ride regularly, and since 2001, her parents have operated the Pineview BMX Park in St. Cloud, Minn.
The entire Post family, including her parents, grandparents, two brothers and one of their wives, will watch Alise compete in London.
When Post takes to the 440-meter BMX track Wednesday, she'll be competing not only for gold, but to inspire future female BMX riders.
"There's going to be a lot more girls able to ride and the depth is going to grow in this sport," Post said. "With the Olympics I really hope that I, and the other girls, can help be the face to help support women in these action sports and get them to go out there. I think a lot of times it's scary to a lot of people. I hope it opens girls' eyes to try to embrace that challenge and get them out there to do it."