Countless studies have shown that exercise before school/work makes you more attentive, which might explain why I’m short of breath and developing a bit of a spit beard. See, I’m at the National Interscholastic Cycling Association’s (NICA) summer summit for league Executive Directors and coaches, aptly held in Eagle, CO, chasing Bruce Martens, NICA’s Coach and Licensing Manager, on the morning “focus” ride. I’m here as GU Energy Lab’s industry liaison, and I am focusing really hard, but it’s on Bruce’s rear wheel, and my breathing, not conference content. That type of focus will come later in the day.
Jeff Kerkove’s rear wheel during morning focus session.
Founded in 2009, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) develops interscholastic mountain biking programs for student-athletes across the United States. NICA provides leadership, services and governance for local leagues to produce quality mountain bike events, and supports every student-athlete in the development of strong body, strong mind and strong character through their efforts on the bike. There are currently 17 leagues from CA to NY, and nearly 9,000 student-athletes country wide. There will be nine leagues racing this Fall with Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Nevada holding their inaugural race series.
All you have to do to see one of the many impacts that NICA is having on the development of cycling in the United States is to look at the current crop of pro MTB/road riders, many of whom have been selected to ride for the US at World Championships or pro teams. Names like Keegan Sweenson, Neilson Powless, Hannah Rae Finchamp, Matthew Tracey-Cook, and Kate Courtney are just a few of the current crop of young guns who came through one of the NICA leagues. And it’s not just professional racing that’s feeling the positive impacts of NICA, it’s advocacy and industry companies that are seeing many of their new employees come with a background in cycling that was shaped by their involvement with high school cycling.
Austin McInerny, NICA’s Executive Director of the past four years, has been involved with the high school cycling movement since it’s inception in CA with the NorCal High School Cycling League, and then as long time coach of the Berkeley High MTB team (the first EVER HS MTB team). When asked about this year’s summit, he states that, “The 6th Annual NICA National Conference brings leaders from across the country together to share lessons learned over the past year and to strategize on how to strengthen interscholastic cycling in America. With over 70 attendees from 18 states participating, the conference is both empowering NICA League Directors to better serve their growing membership and equipping NICA licensed coaches with a holistic approach to working with adolescents. NICA is setting the standard for youth cycling development in America and the conference attendees are enjoying opportunity to spend time together in Eagle, Colorado where the trails are incredible and the locals have embraced mountain biking as an economic driver for their community.”
Speaking of trails, Austin happens to be one of the folks pushing the pace of our morning “focus” ride that’s taken us from the sage of the high desert up into the Aspens and majestic views of the Sawatch Range. It’s obvious, and heartwarming, to know that this crew of passionate folks is helping guide the future of cycling in the United States, or at least giving kids experiences that will, hopefully, guarantee that the bike is always part of their life. Now excuse me, it’s back to focusing on the wheel in front of me so I can get ready for the day’s conference.
If you think getting #morekidsonbikes is important, please consider making a donation to NICA’s Booster Club.