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"I thought I was a mountain biker, but once they started putting in trails, I realized I wanted to get involved more," Keln Taylor said.

"Josh Johnson and I wanted to share our love of biking with the kids. Sometimes you're riding and realize you're smiling and can't quit. That's the smile you get when you're on a bike, going down a hill. I realize I'm smiling. It's so enjoyable!" Taylor said.

Blackhawk Cycling just competed this past weekend in their first race of the year, Taylor said.

Josh Johnson, Taylor and Elisabeth Graham are volunteer coaches. Johnson and Taylor both work at Pea Ridge Schools. The team is a member of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) and follow's their guidelines.

"We're not officially affiliated with the school, but have the privilege of practicing here," Johnson said, explaining that the cycling team is not part of the Arkansas Athletics Association. "It's all volunteer. It's the most expensive volunteer job on the planet," he laughed.

Last year, Anya Bruhin and Bobby Rickard were coaches.

The team practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays with skills, bike maintenance, exercises. Each cyclist rounded the outside loop of the trail then stopped for squats, sit ups, push ups and various exercises as told by the coaches. Then, for their last loop, they are "chased" by the coach, practicing racing techniques. "If I couldn't pass you, then it means you pushed yourself," Johnson said to one student after rounding the trail.

Student Drake Wolfenden, a ninth-grader, said this is his second year on the team.

"It's fun and competitive," he said, adding that he initially joined to improve his skills for track and pole vault, but now enjoys it for its own sake.

Johnson said several students got into track to get better at mountain biking.

"Right now, we're working on endurance conditioning to get ready for the race," Johnson said. "We try to wear them out."

Students range from sixth grade through high school.

"We all help coach," Johnson said, explaining that all have attended training sessions and each are trained at various levels. There is a NICA bike skills guide used for reference. All have passed background checks and received concussion training. "The focus of NICA is safety... There is an inherent risk to biking and we try to mitigate that risk as much as possible. We teach them proper bike handling skills that will help keep them safe.

The trail, built by volunteers, is on the green space between the Primary and Middle Schools. Many volunteers, including members from other teams in the area, volunteered. Members of the Ozark Off Road Cyclists (OORC) organized it and other NICA organizations from other school districts joined. Johnson said there were about 300 hours involved.

"There were kids here working that we're going to be racing against. That's a very powerful statement about what NICA is and about our kids. As a part of NICA, you're required to give 10 hours back to the mountain biking community whether through advocacy, skills, etc. They helped build this trail and we've had kids go maintain the Back 40," he said.

Graham, called Coach Lizzy by the students, lives in Rogers and works for Mercy Health. She's attending nursing school, too. She said she lived in Missouri before moving to northwest Arkansas and met Kila Templeton, NICA league director. Templeton encouraged her to become a coach and she is a friend of former coach Anya Bruhin.

"I race for GPP Cycling and have a racing background," she said. "I love it. It's very challenging cause I work full time and an in the Army and going to school."

She said all of them, coaches, students, parents, build a bond.

"What's really cool about bringing NICA into the high school is that parents become active, too. Many of the families go on family rides. It's very contagious. It encourages healthy living within the home," she said.

Each of the coaches has a special role, she said and she is the strength and endurance coach.

"Mountain biking is very unique from other sports because when we do events, we camp. We'll be out there Saturday night. Everybody will be out there together. All athletes and coaches together. We all ride together," she said. "We see each other on the trail and say 'hi' to one another (referring to opposing team members).

"They're the future," she said of the students. "Pedal it forward!"

Community on 09/12/2018

Print Headline: Cycling creates smiles and good health

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