When I was in high school, what I knew of bike racing wouldn’t have filled an espresso cup. I knew of the Olympics and thought that racing a bicycle was as heady a sporting adventure as I could hope to have. Other than skateboarding, and one season on the third string of my Catholic school’s football team, I was a profoundly unathletic kid. It’s an often-told story among cyclists, athleticism only unlocked with the help of two wheels.
The lessons I’ve learned thanks to sport, what cycling has taught me of being a good sport, of cooperation, community, of self reliance and even about discipline, have shaped me as a person. I’m better for it. I’m grateful for those lessons, but am aware that I could have benefitted from those lessons years earlier. High school would have been a better, richer experience for me if I’d been a cyclist.
The rise of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association has the power to show kids another side of athleticism and teach them deep lessons about community and character. I’d have killed to be a part of this had it been available in 1980.
NICA has the ability to pay some obvious dividends in terms of developing fitness and character. But it also has the ability to improve eye-hand coordination, teach kids that sport isn’t just a win/lose proposition, show that success can come after collaborating with a fellow competitor and demonstrate that some gains come only after months of work. Beyond sport itself, these experiences represent an opportunity for kids to experience the diversity of outdoor environments and pick up valuable planning and mechanical skills.
It’s in such an environment that the bicycle has a chance to stop just being a plaything or a mode of transportation but an integral part of an active life. In that, we stand a chance of growing our population of dedicated cyclists. And for all the gains we’ve made in advocacy and infrastructure, cycling is an aging population. If we want cycling to be part of the landscape of our lives, an accepted part of communities everywhere, we would do well to indoctrinate new riders more quickly and at a younger age. Someday, these kids will be drivers, and if they see themselves as cyclists, they’ll be both more aware and tolerant of riders on the road.
Recently, NICA announced a new initiative, a matching grant from a charitable foundation funded Dick’s Sporting Goods called Sports Matter. The grant is for $75,000. As of this writing the initiative has already received more than $21,000 in pledges, thanks to a $20k gift from Shimano/Pearl Izumi.
Currently, NICA has chapters in 13 regions, impressive given that the organization is only four years old. Their goal is to have chapters from coast to coast by 2020. They are making the world I’d like to have grown up in.
I went to Austin McInerny, NICA’s executive director to ask him just how important this grant would be in the organization’s growth. Here’s what he had to say.
“While at Sea Otter, many adults and industry insiders asked, ‘How can we get involved, how can we help NICA continue to develop the next generation of cyclists?’ This is it. This is how you can help right now. Currently, demand for our services and programs exceeds our capacity and, if awarded, the Sports Matter grant will help us continue to expand youth cycling opportunities across the county. With programs running in thirteen regions now after only four years, just think what is possible with the additional support. Now is the time to step-up and help energize NICA’s efforts as we are on a roll.”
NICA has until May 23 to collect the $50,000 in pledges it needs in order to receive the matching grant. And this is not without huge risk. Should they not hit the $75k total, they get nothing; this is just like the matching grants you hear about during public radio pledge drives.
I’ve pledged what is a princely sum given my earnings. I now ask each of you to give something; $10 will make a difference. And to the bike industry, I call upon you to donate as well. This is a chance to invest in the future of cycling, the future of our communities, the future of our children.