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Authored by 2021 Kaden Ambassador Sheena Morrill
My Early Years Biking
I grew up riding bikes...I’m sure you all remember your first bike; mine was white with a purple banana seat with rainbows on it. I loved that bike, until it was stolen. Thankfully, I was able to get new bikes as I grew over the years that followed. One year, I even did the El Tour de Tucson kids fun ride, which was sponsored by Lisa Frank (remember Lisa Frank!?). It was so cold that day - I remember I felt like my hands were going to fall off - but all that free Lisa Frank swag was worth it! My brother and I, along with all the neighbor kids, used to make ramps on the sidewalk in front of our house out of cinder blocks and plywood. Being a kid in the 90s was rad and so much fun - we spent all of our time outside. Then one fateful afternoon and an OTB (over-the-bars, which still haunts me today) off that ramp and I was done, just like that, never to really ride again until I was an adult.
Reconnecting with Cycling as an Adult with Kids
Fast forward to my early twenties, getting married and having kids…My husband started getting really into riding, mostly downhill. In an effort to spend more time with him, I dabbled in some riding. Never downhill, but green trails on my hybrid Huffy. I never fully enjoyed it, but I loved spending time with him so I went with it. Looking back, I would have told my 20-something-year-old self to change my attitude, because riding a bike is so much fun!! We even used to pull our kids behind our bikes in trailers on the trails, well, more like gravel roads. Over the years as the kids learned to ride, they would start to ride along with us and now they ride WAY ahead of us, inspiring me along the way.
Finding the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA)
As my kids entered middle school, one random Google search led to my family finding the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). NICA is a middle and high school cross-country bike racing league. After my son joined the program, in an effort to be supportive as well as be more involved, I joined the league as a coach; I didn’t just want to wait in the car or drop my kids off at practice. Only coaches are allowed to ride with the kids during practice so by becoming a coach, I was able to ride with the team which immensely helped with my own riding abilities as well as building the endurance to keep up!
My family has now been a part of the North Carolina NICA league for 3 seasons. My husband and I both coach, and when my daughter reached middle school, she also joined the team. For the 2021 season I was promoted to head coach, which is crazy to imagine for someone who 1. isn’t into having the title of head coach (I prefer a more supportive coaching role) and 2. doesn’t have the experience riding like some others have. It truly is an honor to be the head coach, however, I think what makes our team special is that all of our coaches offer something different, whether that be skill teaching technical skills or just being a positive role model for our athletes.
One of my favorite things about NICA is the inclusivity that the program fosters. We want all kids to have access to and be able to ride a bike, no matter what. Through sponsors and donors, scholarships are offered to student athletes to cover season fees. There is also a bike loaner program for those who are unable to get a bike. Our team has utilized both of those opportunities provided by NICA. This year there was actually a waitlist for the loaner program due to the amount of kids who wanted to ride! We also don’t make it mandatory to race, in fact, the 2021 season hasn’t had any racing, it’s been all about ADVENTURE!! Our team had a big increase in the amount of riders who signed up, which I feel is because a lot of other extracurricular activities were stopped due to the pandemic. Being outside in nature with their peers has helped a lot of kids get through this past year, in my opinion. We have seen kids who could barely ride a bike when they first started now ride through singletrack with a big smile on their face and glowing with confidence. Those same kids are now also hitting drops and other obstacles that they may have otherwise been scared of, or never would’ve had the opportunity to try if it weren’t for NICA.
Girls Riding Together
NICA also has a program called Girls Riding Together (GRiT) which hosts regional, statewide, and national events, with a focus on helping female identifying student athletes become more comfortable riding a bike in a male dominated sport. I have had the pleasure of attending some of the events and they are truly special to be a part of. There is a certain vibe and energy that you feel being surrounded by so many girls and women who share your same passion for mountain biking. In 2021, monthly Zoom meetings were held for female student athletes to connect with other student athletes and coach mentors throughout the state, for a series of conversations, games, and even virtual yoga for cyclists.
Riding bikes will always be such an important part of my life, especially being able to ride with my husband and kids. I am constantly amazed and motivated by their confidence and fearless spirit. For us, riding bikes as a family is our favorite way to connect and grow closer together. We create memories through our adventures together which, for us, cannot be replicated by sitting around watching TV or playing video games.
Advice For Other Moms
My best advice to moms who want to ride with their children is just to get out there and do it! There will be struggles and maybe even some tears along the way, but it will all be worth it. Especially worth it when you see your kids conquer fears and crush goals. Along the way of cheering your kids on, something magical happens and you learn to conquer your own fears, gain confidence, and in my case, work through anxiety.
If you would like more information about youth cycling, specifically NICA, visit their website, https://www.nationalmtb.org/. Check to see if there is a league in your state and a team near you. You don’t have to be a parent to get involved with the organization and become a coach which, I can say, is truly a fulfilling experience.
Photos courtesy of Sheena Morrill.