Peck ready for new challenges at Purdue

At the age of 16, Lily Peck was put on an airplane headed for Los Angeles, California, to participate in a three-week cross-country bicycle ride that ended in Bloomington, Indiana.

So beginning an educational track to become a genetic researcher with the goal of curing pediatric cancer does not seem so daunting for Shelbyville High School’s valedictorian.

Peck intertwined details of one particularly long leg of that 2017 ride into her commencement speech Saturday at William L. Garrett Gymnasium. But there was so much more to that trip, and the one she completed in 2018 and the one she is about to embark on later this month.

“There are so many things I’ve learned over the course of the trip,” said Peck. “When I first went on it I was 16 and I had never been away from my parents that long and never really lived on my own. So going away with strangers for a three-week long trip was awesome.”

Peck was Shelbyville’s No. 1 ranked student academically since 8th grade. She’s been riding competitively in different disciplines even longer.

“I started cycling in sixth grade and I first started racing at the end of sixth grade,” she explained.

Peck competes in road races, mountain bike events and cyclo-cross. Her father, Ty, was a competitive racer for years and his only child was typically there to assist with preparations and watch. And when he decided to step back from racing, Lily saw an opportunity to step up.

“Being the annoying child that I was, I said I will start racing now. We’re not done with this yet,” she said.

On May 1, 2013, Peck won her first mountain bike race, although she admitted she had no idea she had crossed the finish line. The date sticks in her head because it was her mom’s birthday.

“We made my mom, on her birthday, come to this poor mountain bike race in the middle of nowhere,” said Peck. “There were only two or three other girls in the race. I remember coming to the finish line and I had no clue how the race worked so I was like, ‘Am I done yet or do I do another lap?’”

Peck found she had natural talent for racing and combined it with an unrelenting pursuit of not being labeled “good for a girl.” She has risen to the highest level of racing just short of being a professional, and is a certified professional in cyclo-cross, a unique sport that is competed on outdoor courses with obstacles that force riders to dismount and carry their bikes to the next part of the course.

“I’ve got my pro license. I’ve done some pro races. I’m not a pro but I ride with them,” she said.

Peck has competed all over the Ohio Valley Region and ventured further for national competitions. Through her riding, she learned of a cross-country summer ride. Despite missing the 2017 registration deadline, Peck’s father was able to get her into the event. With a bike loaded onto a box truck headed for the West Coast, Ty and Julie Peck trusted their only child to have a great learning experience – and come home safely.

“Because it was so last minute, I knew one person on the trip and I’ve known her for awhile and she didn’t like me that much,” said Peck with a laugh. “Basically, I had no friends on the trip. I flew out to Los Angeles, they threw our bikes at us and basically said, ‘Go ride home.’”

The event was more organized than that. Stages were set up for daily rides with a place to sleep at night already secured.

“We would ride 100 to 150 miles per day. Typically, we would be in groups of 7-8 people. We would ride place to place. We usually slept on church floors in sleeping bags,” she said.

Glamorous it was not. Unforgettable? Most assuredly.

“Monument Valley at sunrise,” responded Peck when asked about her favorite moments of the trip. “That’s one of the moments that was surreal. Right as we hit Monument Valley (in Arizona), the sun starts coming up behind all the rock formations. We were somewhere in the middle of Arizona.”

But, as it turns out, that somewhere was a memorable destination in the middle of nowhere.