Tara McCarthy is celebrating her eighth year at USA Cycling and a recent promotion to senior national events manager. But one decade ago, she wouldn’t have predicted a career in the sports industry.
“I saw myself working for nonprofits outside of the sports industry, even though I’d been involved with sports all my life,” McCarthy says. “It’s been really great because I’m a very active person and it’s been nice to have a career in something that I love.”
McCarthy played rugby for 12 years and never expected to get involved with cycling. In 2011, a race instructor certification program she was implementing at USA Triathlon caught the eye of USA Cycling. The member-based organization then offered her an events position.
Now, she has gone from managing a few national championships a year to managing all 15 of USA Cycling’s national championships, along with its entire events calendar. The races focus on the disciplines of road racing, track racing, cyclocross racing— which features obstacles and varying terrain —and mountain bike racing. The races draw in a range of 200 to 1,800 athletes from across the country, and this year the participant ages will range from 11 to 86.
McCarthy’s role is zeroed in on the logistics of each race—securing permits, creating schedules, hiring timing companies, and setting up registration. However, her main goal at each race is to give the athletes a memorable experience.
In 2018, McCarthy helped to do just that when an older cyclist who faced medical issues prior to the race and almost couldn’t compete.
“He was not sure if he was going to be able to race at our mountain bike nationals… he actually got fifth place, and so he was fifth in the nation after having almost a year’s worth of challenges,” McCarthy says. “He lost his medal going home and his wife emailed me asking if I could send another medal. I was able to do so right before the holidays.”
Moments like that keep McCarthy excited about her role, and about working with her team of three national events mangers to put on the best possible programs.
McCarthy says that team synergy helps to achieve success under high pressure.
One 2016 race in particular stands out, when McCarthy’s team was under a lot of pressure to put on a high-quality event after issues the year before.
“At the end of the week of racing, we realized we had put on an amazing event, and the team cohesiveness through that two weeks was phenomenal,” she says. “We have a picture of all of us standing on top of a flyover, and there are champagne bottles and people are toasting each other. That team spirit to get through a challenging time is something that makes me continue to want to do what I do.”
Now, McCarthy is taking a big-picture look at race locations for the next five to 10 years. The national races rotate around the country every two years, which helps USA Cycling keep the courses diverse and gives the athletes a chance to experience the race in a new part of the country.
While the national championships are a membership benefit of USA Cycling, the organization also puts on non-championship races so all athletes can experience their programs.
“I want everyone who comes to our events to have an amazing time, to talk to their friends and families about it and just keep coming back for more,” McCarthy said. “I think that attraction for our athletes is one of the things that keeps me grounded, and it’s probably the most important part of our role at USA Cycling.”