Hometown Hopefuls: Road to Paris

BMX racer Felicia Stancil shares how family tragedy sparked her Olympic dream

Stancil, a Lake Villa native and elite women's world champion in BMX racing, is on her second quest for Olympic glory after falling short of medaling at the Tokyo Games by less than half a second.

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Felicia Stancil lost her mother at age 3. Exactly one year after her death, Stancil’s father introduced her to BMX racing, a sport that he himself competed professionally in for years.

Stancil, a BMX racing Olympian primed for Paris, said that although her mother's death deeply impacted her, it affected her father even more.

"It changed my dad," Stancil said. "He put so much time and energy into showing me BMX."

Now Stancil, a Lake Villa native, is on her second quest for Olympic glory after falling short of medaling at the Tokyo Games by less than half a second.

After starting racing at 4 years old, Stancil's father continued to guide her throughout her career. As one of the first elite BMX racers to have a parent that also competed professionally in the sport, Stancil said she feels lucky to have him and learned a lot from him growing up.

Together, Stancil and her father began traveling for international competitions when she was 9.

She said traveling was what helped her fall in love with the sport. She loved to travel the world, race her bike and see her friends across the country.

"It's been a long journey, and he's definitely opened a lot of doors for me,” Stancil told reporter Alex Maragos. Stancil's story is featured in NBC Chicago's new series focused on Chicago-area Olympians, "Hometown Hopefuls: Road to Paris."

Stancil admitted that while there were times as a kid she would rather have been home watching television, her father encouraged her, and the drive to train in the sport came from them both. She said she has memories of her father standing in other countries' sections during international events to calm his nerves.

"My dad was always very calm and the quiet parent, almost, at races," Stancil said. "He was very calm, cool and collected."

Fast-forward to 2024, and Stancil looks to finish in Paris what she started and ultimately, barely fell short of in Tokyo.

Stancil said she felt she didn't have her best lap at the finals in Tokyo and thinks she could have done better for herself. She said the Tokyo final race was on her mind a lot after the Games and that losses are easier when she knows the girls who beat her were better than her that day. But it's the days where she knows she could've done better that are harder to swallow.

"I just kept my head down only because I thought I could've done better for that day," Stancil said.

The following year, Stancil became the elite women's world champion.

"[The final in Tokyo] did give me some fuel. So there was a blessing in it," Stancil said.

She hopes to bring everything she's learned in the past three years to Paris.

"I think I elevated my career [within the last two Olympic cycles]. I feel like a new rider now," Stancil said.

In her pursuit for Paris, Stancil trains between three and six hours each day. She said her goal is to represent her country in the best way possible, but BMX has so many variables within a 40-second race and anything could happen.

Despite the race being a quick competition with eight women pedaling closely together, even going over an eight-meter hill, Stancil said she doesn't really get nervous before a race and tries to do most of her thinking beforehand.

"I try to come to race day and not think as much," Stancil said.

Stancil said that while her love for the sport started with traveling, she now feels she has become somewhat "addicted to the process of training."

"I'm working really really hard right now and just have to see how that day unfolds. But I'm working hard to be in the best shape possible to bring home something," Stancil said.

Looking ahead, Stancil said she plans on continuing BMX, even possibly aiming for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics. Once she retires from the sport, she plans on diving back into exercise science, which she studied in college at Marian University in Indianapolis.

"I think BMX has my biggest heart right now."

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