INDY WEEK: How did you get involved in the championship? What brought you to compete in it?
ABBY LAMPE: Social media and videos on YouTube. I hadn’t seen the Netflix special [We Are the Champions, “Cheese Rolling” episode] until the day before I raced. One of my friends talked to me about the docuseries and I was so shocked. We watched it the night before, trying to get ready. The episode talked about some strategies, and going into it, I felt a lot better having watched that.
It became a reality in March. My friends and I were talking about our plans for the summer, someone mentioned this race, and I thought to myself, “That would be really cool to do.” I looked it up to see what date it was. It happened to be in June, when I was planning my post-graduation trip. I figured out that it was feasible for me to fly out to England.
What’s the tradition surrounding the competition?
Basically, someone rolls an eight-pound cheese wheel down this hill and then everyone chases it. People from the docuseries ask, “How long has this been going on?” Some said 400 years, some said 600 years, and some even said centuries.
The village of Brockworth, where the cheese rolling takes place, has done this for a long time. It hasn’t gotten international except for in the past few years. It’s usually just been an English thing. I think it’s supposed to be good wishes for crops.
It’s like the quintessential English countryside. On the walk to the hill, there was a little cow pasture and I got to take some videos of them. There were cows everywhere.
Did you have any sort of training routine beforehand?
I actually went to Dorothea Dix, once. I asked people around Raleigh if they knew of any steep hills that were grassy and not concrete or asphalt. Dix had good sledding hills, so I figured I’d use one of those. I wanted to figure out if going sideways (tumbling) or if going headfirst would be the best way. I originally thought going headfirst would be better.
Little did I know that I would have no control over how I would roll or the speed that I’d be getting to. You don’t realize all these different parts of the cheese roll until you’re in it. I thought, this is it, this is my life.
I loosely use the word “train,” because I don’t know if you could call it training. I used [the day that I flew in] to feel for where I was going to be. We hiked up the hill and I went on a test run. It was more like a walk and then a slide and then turned into a tumbling fest.
Cooper’s Hill is so steep it’s actually a 1:2 ratio and 200 yards long. I got my friend to record it so I could rewatch the footage to prepare for it, but it was also very funny to watch myself fall down that hill.
That was my physical preparation. My mental preparation was watching a ton of film, specifically the men’s race that was done before my race. I watched them back to see who won and where they started. In any sport, I feel like watching film is essential when you’re participating as a competitor.
Did you get to eat the cheese? Did you have any cheese rolling role models?
You get sent home with the cheese that was rolled down the hill. I shipped it to my parents ’cause I looked at getting it through customs and there was just no way. Getting it from customs from the UK to Spain was not happening, I think they have a no animal product rule.
I’m going to unveil the cheese with my family when I get back, and we might wanna collaborate with the chancellor to celebrate the win with NC State.
Chris Anderson is a 23-time cheese rolling champion. I got to meet him, actually. After the race, I was freaking out.
Flo Early was also there, and she was the one who was taking pictures with me and she gave me the cheese. I was floored. When I saw her, I was so in shock. I didn’t know she was gonna be there at all. I was gleaming and I couldn’t believe she was there. She’s a four-time champion of the ladies’ race.
Both of them are world record holders for the cheese rolling event. Crazily enough, Anderson sent me a Facebook message which said, “Congratulations! Absolute nutter,” and then he sent me a video of Ozzy Man Reviews, which is an Australian guy reviewing the tape from my win. I couldn’t believe he sent me that, it was so sweet.
Would you do it again?
I think so, especially sooner rather than later. I wouldn’t take a long hiatus if I were to take one. I’m only going to be this young for now. Bones will break harder and recovery will be worse if I wait to do it at, like, 30.
Did you end up getting any injuries?
Not really. After the race, I was so full of adrenaline. Only one of my legs is actually bruised, with a few scratches too. My head did kind of hurt a little after the race. A few scratches on my side too, which I didn’t know about. I fully expected to break, fracture, or sprain an ankle—I’m prone to ankle injuries.
I think there’s a 30 percent chance that you’ll get injured [while doing the cheese roll]. The odds were pretty good, a 70 percent chance that I won’t get injured—you know, that’s a C, a passing grade. C’s get degrees!
What’s the rest of your summer looking like?
I’m going to be traveling a lot. Next week, I’m going back to England for a couple of concerts. I’m going to Portugal, too, and then spending some time in Greece as well. Unfortunately, those days line up with the running of the bulls, so I won’t be able to participate in that.
People were really happy that I won’t be able to do that, though. Some of my classmates in the Spanish classes I’m taking asked if I could do it; I said no and they said, “Good. You already threw yourself down a hill for some cheese.”
The running of the bulls is definitely more dangerous considering all the moving variables. Those are actual animals. A cheese is an inanimate object, you know, it’s going to roll and [you] see where it’s going to go. Bulls are unpredictable and have minds of their own. They will pummel you and you will get hurt.
The last question I got asked at the race was, “Did you tell your travel insurance you’d be doing this?” I said, “I don’t have travel insurance.”
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