As NICA grows – now with 19 Leagues and over 12,000 student-athletes, we caught up with Lori Harward , Utah League Director to hear her thoughts on directing the largest league in the country.
How long have you been the Utah League Director?
Six Years. I am the Founder and Director of the Utah League. Our first season was in 2012.
How did you find out about NICA and why did you want to start the Utah League?
I found out about NICA at the Fall 2010 USSA Coaches Summit in Colorado. There was a coach there from the SoCal League who kept asking questions about junior racers in a class. I went up to him after to ask how he got so many kids on bikes and he told me about the SoCal League and NICA. I went home and checked out their websites and realized this was the coolest thing ever and that I had to start a team or league. I contacted NICA and then submitted a bid in 2011.
What is your favorite aspect of being a NICA League Director?
I feel like I’m the luckiest person because I get to wake up every day and make a difference in the lives of Utah’s teens and Utah’s communities in something that I love and that has made such a difference in my own life (biking).
The Utah League is currently the largest NICA League in the country – what are some of the challenges you’ve run into managing such a large league, and what are some of the successes you’ve achieved?
We have experienced 666% growth in 5 years, which is both awesome and presents our greatest challenge. We were the first league to have 4 waves, then 6 waves, and now we have 2 regions racing ~1000 students each weekend with 9 races total. We were also the first league to host multiple leaders summits in a year.
It’s interesting you used the words challenge, growth and success in the question because those three words are typically linked in life.
People often ask why we race when our focus is on camaraderie and not competition. And one of the reasons why is because mountain bike training and racing teaches our students that they can do hard things; they can face and overcome challenges and fears. Life is challenging and when we provide a safe and supportive place to face challenges, our students gain a positive foundation from which they can face other challenges in life with greater confidence. Thus, as leaders in our league, our coaches and staff decided to hold true to our core principle of inclusivity and not limit teams sizes. We knew our decision would present all kinds of challenges, but we also knew that if we worked together, we could face the challenges of our growing numbers, learn and grow from it and ultimately make a positive difference in the lives of Utah’s teens (which for us = success). We love these kids. 🙂
How has being a part of NICA helped you and Utah get more kids on bikes?
There were very few teenage cyclists in Utah before we started the league, in spite of others trying to start different programs. Why NICA is such an awesome and successful program in Utah is because it functions as an interscholastic program. Teens want to be with their peers, representing their schools. Our student athletes love the camaraderie and friendships of their teams and league. I also believe something resonates within students and they like belonging to a program based on the principles of strong body, strong mind, strong character, inclusivity and equality, and having coaches that value them as individuals and who place their individual well-being above winning.
How did you get involved with cycling?
I started biking as a child. But where cycling started to become an important part of my life was junior high. Junior high was challenging in many ways for me and I would find relief from the stress on my 10-speed after school. As I got older, I got a mountain bike and discovered mountain biking while living in northern California. Next I was introduced to Moab and slickrock and started racing. Mountain biking became my passion and my joy and keeps me sane. 🙂 I became a USAC certified coach and had been coaching and racing for several years before discovering NICA.
Do you have a particular ride or experience from a Utah League race or NICA event that really stands out? If so, why?
Although we have many years and many races and so many inspiring or funny stories, our very first race is still my favorite memory. Just thinking about that day brings tears to my eyes. The last racer to come across the line that day was Haydn Bills, surrounded by his cheering teammates. Haydn had been battling depression, and the medicines he had been using caused him to gain weight. He found out about his high school mountain bike team and joined. Haydn found friends on the team and he worked hard at practices and loved biking. His goal was to finish the race. It was a hot day and he wasn’t sure he could finish, and we weren’t sure he could finish. But, the sweep stayed with him, encouraging him. As the time passed, his team became worried and ran ¼ mile up from the finish to watch for Haydn. As he approached them, they started cheering. And then they started running. They ran alongside him, cheering, the rest of the way to the finish line. What a day.
What is your favorite food treat?
Anything with sugar! Haha
How do you think Utah League coaches and student-athletes would describe you?
Enthusiastic 🙂 >
Thanks Lori! Best wishes to you and the Utah League for a successful season this Fall!