Former mountain bike downhill and cross country pro, Kristi Berg, is blazing a trail in female participation for high school mountain biking with a program in her home state of Washington.
Seven years ago, Kristi obtained her USA Cycling coaches licence, to help develop cycling in her region, 45 miles north of Seattle. Then about two years ago she began looking for ways to develop an off-road program, and Lisa Miller, director of the Washington League suggested she set up a NICA team.
At about the same time a counselor at Lakewood High School, Heidi Klippert, was looking to set up a team, so the two got together and formed the Arlington Composite Team.
With several students from Lakewood High School, a team with that name was formed this year while the Arlington Composite Team remained for other local student-athletes. Kristi and Heidi, helped by Heidi’s husband, manager these two and plan a third for next year.
The most notable feature of the two existing teams is the 50:50 ratio of girls to boys, with seven of each.
“Everybody asks me how I find girls that will race on a school mountain bike team,” says Kristi.
“One thing that helped us was Heidi’s daughter, Hannah, who won NICA’s Extraordinary Courage award last year. She is visually impaired, but was keen to ride, and she could do it, and seeing that she could ride mountain bikes and was loving it, some of her friends joined the team as well. Also, as a counselor, Heidi is in contact with students and has brought in a couple as well.”
Kristi underlines the fact that no prior mountain bike experience is necessary to join one of her teams. “Most of my girls had no racing or mountain biking experience before they joined the team. They showed up to practice and we were very welcoming to them, and the energy we have in the team helped them to commit.”
Of course Kristi is aware of the typical obstacles that discourage girls from joining school teams. “The technical element of mountain biking, the name of the sport itself, scares girls who think they can’t do it. So we work hard to let them know they can do it, and this will be a new experience and they will learn new things about themselves and what they are capable of.”
Kristi is careful to make the early challenges very easy and the transitions gradual to more technically difficult trails. This is approach is producing great results for her.
“All except for one, who had prior experience, were very tentative when they started four months ago. But in every case we have seen a dramatic improvement in riding level. They keep on saying they would never have believed the kind of trails they can ride now. Every day, just watching them ride. It’s the best thing in the world.”