This month we caught up with NICA Administration and Finance Director Lauren Haughey while she was sitting at her desk in the NICA office one afternoon, eating popcorn and crunching some numbers on her abacus.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Lauren is involved in NICA not only as an employee, but also as the parent of a NorCal Student Athlete, a coach for the Oakland Composite team with her husband Morgan, and the NorCal League Race Weekend Registration Coordinator. She wears many hats, all of them well, and always has a smile to accompany them. Here’s how Lauren became so involved.
Q: How did you come to start working for NICA?
A: It’s kind of a “right place at the right time” story. In 2009, I was between jobs and going through a typical mid-life crises. I’d spent the previous 15 years, right out of college, working in the corporate world. I had two little kids, I was travelling a lot, I was commuting a lot, and I was working in an industry that I’d never really felt good about. So I decided to leave it – and take some time to do some career soul-searching. During the sabbatical, I volunteered at my kids’ schools a bunch, did the PTA Board thing, worked in the garden, did some part-time work for a bike magazine, raced some cyclocross, ate a lot of quinoa, and rode my mountain bike a bunch. As I began to realize that I might want to work in the bike industry, I started networking a little. A friend (former NorCal Board Treasurer, Mark Kintz) mentioned that the NICA was just launching and they were looking for someone to come in and help out with some operational and financial stuff for both NICA and the NorCal League. So I went on in and volunteered a little bit, gradually taking on more and more work. I’d originally thought it would be a nice little part time gig until I could find a “real” job. But within about six months it was a real job!
Q: What was your introduction into mountain biking, did you experience it as a youth or did you come to find the sport as an adult?
A: Growing up we had bikes, and we rode them out in the dirt and on the hills in our neighborhood. Our family had a road bike, a banana-seat Schwinn, a few BMX bikes, and a bunch of big wheels in various states of disrepair. We lived in one of those newly developed 1970s suburbs surrounded by a lot of open space. Like many kids back then, we spent most of our time riding bikes around the neighborhood all day long. With wide open slopey fields and giant hills, we did what any other kids would’ve done – built gnarly jumps and raced each other around. The big wheels were the most fun to race on – they got the best air.
It wasn’t until I met my husband, who grew up in Marin racing mountain and road bikes, that I “properly’ started riding and racing mountain bikes.
Q: What kind of work do you do for NICA, and what are some highlights of working there?
A: I’m the Finance & Administration Director in the National office. Highlights are a-plenty working in our office. We’re a pretty small (six full time employees) staff. I work with a committed, passionate, smart and extremely fun crew. We all ride bikes a lot. We all get along very well and we laugh a lot. When you work together as a small group to organize and present huge events, sometimes simultaneously, such as races, education summits, camps, conferences, banquets, etc. and you support nine separate states, can manage the flow of 800 coaches and almost 3,000 student athletes, you must have a well-oiled machine. I feel very lucky to have such dedicated co-workers.
Q: How did your kid(s) become involved with the NorCal league, and what changes have you seen with them or your family because of it?
A: I’m not sure they really had a choice! Ha! No, just kidding. It was a pretty natural progression. Both my kids played the typical sports early on; soccer, lacrosse, table tennis, etc. But neither really fell in love with any of those sports. We’re not your typical baseball, football, basketball type family. Instead of teaching our kids how to shoot hoops or play catch, we planted their little butts on bikes and rode out to the trails.
After I started working at NICA, we brought them out to a few of the NorCal high-school races, and I watched how it started to click with my eighth-grade son – that bike racing could be REALLY super fun when it was ALL about kids. Last year, he raced a season in the NorCal League as a freshman at the same time he played a full season of high-school lacrosse. This year as a sophomore, he’s decided to focus only on mountain biking as his spring sport. He’s into it. It’s definitely a way for him to connect to his dad. It’s a huge common interest, or should I say, common passion. And it has given him a boatload of confidence as a person.
Q: Why did you and your husband decide to head up a team and coach?
A: Well it’s not so much “why” we decided to coach the team, but rather “when” we would step up to head the team. I think as a parent, you get as involved as possible in your kids’ lives when they’re young in order to support their interests. My husband and I have both coached, managed, or volunteered in some facet of all the sport teams that our kids have been involved in. So it made sense. We helped out with the team last year, and then when the head coach stepped down after last season, we stepped up.
Q: Tell us a bit about your team and your experience/difficulties/success with starting the team?
A: We’re coaching the Oakland Composite team. Coaching a Composite team is a challenge in itself because it’s not just one group of kids from one high school. We’ve got kids on the team from 7 or 8 different high schools in Oakland and the surrounding areas. The kids on our team come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, so you can imagine the challenges: transportation, equipment, support on the home front. The first big challenge is getting bikes for the kids who can’t afford them – the equipment aspect. And then of course, making sure the bikes are ridable & safe for the kids. And then there’s the transportation aspect. And then there’s the financial support aspect. You just sort of deal with each thing as it comes. It’s an interesting perspective – being a parent of a rider in the League, a coach of a really economically diverse team, and an employee of the National office. I’m seeing it full circle.
Q: What advice would you give anyone starting a team that encompasses inner city or low income areas? And/or what advice would you give to anyone who is considering starting up a team?
A: Oh, boy. I’m not sure I’ve figured it out yet. It’s all very new to me. It’s probably the same advice I’d give to anyone starting any team, whether in an inner city area or an area similar to Marin. Start small. Get a few kids interested first and secure a few bikes, and start riding with them. Most kids don’t need or want big training plans or full kits or expensive bikes. They just want to ride on dirt, make new friends, and have fun. Recruit a solid and wide support network. Find a local adult bike team or club to support you. Our biggest support network for the Oakland Composite team is an adult club, the Team Oakland racers. It’s a team here in Oakland that consists of mostly road racers, but also cyclocross and mountain bikers. We have three or four Team Oakland members who are our assistant coaches, out with us on every single team ride. They’re our “go to” when we need support. They support us with volunteer time, equipment & clothing donations, transportation dilemmas, mechanical issues,etc. Andfinally, find a local bike shop that’ll help out. We have a local shop, Wheels of Justice, that the kids can go into at any time and get good advice and mechanical support.
Getting more kids on the team who ordinarily wouldn’t have access to a program like this is a huge challenge. We’re trying to build a solid cyclist connection within the Oakland Police Department who can help us rally some other adults to build a bigger offshoot of the team to reach more kids in the other areas of Oakland. There’s funding and bikes for a program in Oakland similar to what the Sacramento Police Department did with their mountain bike team, but in Oakland we have a lot going on right now – primarily police resource issues. It won’t happen this season, but we’re planting the seeds for next season.
Q: What are you most stoked about being 1), a NICA staffer, 2) a coach, 3) the parent of a rider in the League for this upcoming NorCal season?
A: As a parent, I’m super-stoked to see my kid riding a lot, having fun, and being excited for the NorCal race season. I love hearing about the rides; the epic tales, the trials and tribulations, the silly stories, the hill that he finally cleared. As a coach, I’m SUPER excited to see the new kids riding. I love listening to the team ride and race stories. I can’t wait to see them race and hear about their experiences. And as a staffer, I’m super-duper-stoked to travel to the different states to help out with the races and talk to the coaches, parents, volunteers, and kids and hear how it’s all changing their lives. Can’t wait!