Last month we announced a Literature Contest with Dirt Rag magazine where we asked student-athletes to tell us how they have been able to develop a strong character through interscholastic cycling with the support of their coach.
We received MANY wonderful entries and after much deliberation selected three winners. Congratulations to Heidi Martin, Griffin Clubb and Sage Flory for their outstanding essays! Meet our winners and read their winning essays below!
Throughout my nine years of competing in the cycling world, I’ve never met a coach that has changed my character outside of cycling until I joined the Manitou Mountain Monsters cycling team. My prior teams and coaches all encouraged me to focus on myself and my training. I spent many years learning strictly about cycling and how it affected me, but my cycling never positively impacted others until I was taught a better way. Coach Eric Vaillancourt and Coach Joe McNerney have taught me how to build a strong community, empower others and be kind by leading by example.
The Coaches Eric and Joe do not just coach, they mentor our team members. From the moment I joined the team, they have treated every member with respect despite their skill level. They emphasize the importance of positive energy and positive community before we practice. The entire background of our team was created to build an environment where students can be a team, be themselves and learn leadership skills that would help them in all areas of their lives. Coach Joe and Eric both have continuously demonstrated how to encourage and surround our team with positivity. When practices get tough, our team survives on the energy we’ve created from friendship. We’re all supported and encouraged, regardless of our skill levels. These coaches have changed my character and has made me more positive. They’ve taught me how to be humble and companionate. When one teammate falls down, our bond that we’ve built gives us the strength to come back up. Our team extends to more than just the coaches and riders. Parents, school administrators, and cyclists in our community are brought into our circle. We host team dinners and parties so that everyone including non-racers can be involved. Our team has grown as a family because of our coaches pushing the importance of team bonding. My coaches have shown me that it’s more than just me that keeps me on bike. I may be weak at some points but other teammates support me and help me push through tough times. I am a part of some thing much bigger than myself. I am responsible for giving back more than what I take. After our season was over, our team continued to stay the best of friends because we have learned that we are stronger together. I’ve developed friendships and bonds that are unbreakable and I’m continuing to learn how to grow friendships because of the things I’ve learned during cycling season.
Cycling, as we all know, can be a very expensive sport. Oftentimes, promising athletes are held back by lack of funding. Coach Joe and Eric make certain that everyone gets the equipment that they need. Our team swaps and donates bikes and equipment amongst the team families and their connections. When someone needs something, Coach Joe and Eric leave no stone unturned to make sure that the need gets met. They have spent many nights devoting their time rebuilding and fixing our bikes. They’ve volunteered at multiple trail rebuilding events to help. They have painstakingly taught us how to maintain our own equipment and be responsible for being on time and prepared. This is how we are taught to show gratitude. Most importantly, they give us encouragement and makes us feel that the reason they give us so much is because we are worth their time and energy. They have taught us to respect one another and ourselves by putting others first and not taking our blessings for granted. We each feel special. And I feel like I have no limits on what I can achieve whether I am on or off my bike.
I have applied these lessons to other situations in my life. At home I’ve learned to support my sister more to achieve a better relationship. At school I try to help and encourage others who may be struggling to find their place. I show my parents more gratitude for the time and money they’ve poured into my cycling. I want my life to be filled with the same supportive networks that I have experienced with my cycling team and I know that for that to happen, it starts with me. I remember the lessons that I have been taught by Coach Eric and Coach Joe, that giving of myself, remembering to encourage others, and being grateful is how I can build better communities in all areas of my life. That’s what makes me a better person and when I’m a better person, I’m a better cyclist.
Mountain biking is my favorite pastime. Nothing beats flying through the woods, bumping over rocky ground, and standing up on your pedals as you jump a log. It cools you off when you splash through a stream crossing, jerking up on your handlebars to pull yourself back onto the trail. Your brakes scream as you race down a hill, barely restraining yourself from going full speed ahead. Finally, you skid out into the gravel parking lot exhausted but happy.
However, I didn’t always enter the parking lot exhausted and happy. At my first ever NICA practice as a sixth grader, I managed to fly off a jump into the gravel parking lot, crashing flat on my back. This was before practice even began! I was now exhausted and humiliated. This was definitely not how I had envisioned my first practice to go, but I also wasn’t expecting the response I got from my coaches. They were the first ones there, encouraging me to get back up, and asking me if I was alright.
From that point on, I saw how helpful and encouraging the coaches were to me and the other riders, too. They were always there, helping us to keep going, and staying behind with some of the slower bikers to encourage them. I liked how they always found a way to help us improve our skills, telling us things like, “Scoot back on your seat; it helps you not bounce as much,” or, “Stand up on your pedals going downhill; it’s easier to balance that way.” They made everything fun, and I enjoyed all my practices, even when I wrecked. More than just skills, they helped me develop good character.
I joined the bike team thinking it would just be a fun way to exercise and get out in nature, but I have gotten a lot more out of it than strong muscles. It has helped me persevere through challenges and trials. Going back to that first practice, I felt like I wanted to quit right there, but instead, I got back up and rode the rest of the practice. That is one way biking has helped me develop perseverance. There have been several times I have felt so tired I just wanted to stop riding and go home, but every time, my coaches were there spurring me on. Even now, I feel like biking has helped me to not give up and to persevere through all different things – not just biking. Sometimes, when I’m helping my dad work in the yard and I’m tired and hot, I keep going, because I know at the end there will be a reward. Not just the fact that he might take me out to get a cold drink, or something like that, but the sense of accomplishment when I look back at everything we did and know that I helped finish that project. That is the same feeling I get when I finish a hard trail I thought I couldn’t do.
With my coaches’ encouragement, I learned how to push myself, and to find out how far I can go. I like the challenge of getting to the next tree, or jumping a rock and crossing a stream. One particular challenge I overcame during bike season was getting up a really big, rocky hill. At the start of bike season, I couldn’t get up it, but every time we rode it at practice, I got up a little farther, and by the end of the season it was easy for me. That is yet another way perseverance has helped me overcome challenges.
Biking has also taught me about good sportsmanship and being part of a team. I always thought of biking as an individual sport, but now I realize how important it is to be part of a team. It made such a difference to hear my coaches and teammates cheering me on all along the race course. Our coaches expected us to show up early and stay late on race days. We did not just come for our own race time, but we stayed to support each other. Even though I was never anywhere near the top ten bike racers, my team was the state’s top team in our division. All of our different riders’ skills and our support of one another helped us reach that goal.
Bike team starts again this summer, and now I know that I won’t be just heading out to ride, but I’ll be out with my friends and coaches, building my muscles and my character at the same time. So whether I’m lying flat on my back in a gravel parking lot or improving my race time out on the trails, I know that my coaches will be there supporting me and helping me through it all.
I never in a million years imagined I would be writing something like this. Or even getting on a bike to race week after week. No, no, I didn’t break my legs, but I was a huge hater of biking to begin with. Crazy! I know. I grew up in a biking family, but never pictured myself a part of it. My brother is a phenomenal biker and he always pushed me to join. I never realized how much I needed it. I have now learned that not only is biking a sport, but a family. It’s a way to be you, and a way to be great. My coach is not only my mentor and friend, but also my very own dad. In my small town of Rhinelander, a biking team was always a dream, but never a reality. Only two years ago, my dad introduced us to one.
With the encouragement of a great biking family that we met, I decided to give the team a try. At the beginning of the season, I was dreading the first practice, let alone race. I told myself I would try it out, do the first race, and be done. The day of the first race I reminded myself that this was supposed to be fun. Of course I was doubting that at the start. However, I remembered all of the amazing people and friends I was surrounded with, and I was ready. My coach (dad) came up to me and gave me a highfive. He said, “At least try to have fun…? It’ll be over in a half in hour.” It’s hard to explain, but the feeling that I got at the end of the first race, when the fans were cheering and screaming for me; I knew that the next weekend, I was getting right back on that bike to race for a second time.
I remember the look on my dad’s (coach’s) face when I crossed the line. As well as my mom’s. My biggest fan. They were full of disbelief, happiness, and pride. My heart was beating so fast, and I knew that this was something I would grow to love. I was full of excitement for just finishing, and when one of my other great coaches came up to me and said, “I think you made the podium!” I thought “ no way” , and went on smiling. I was never expecting a podium finish…especially in the first race. I don’t think anyone else was either. Everyone knew me as polite and kind, but also shy in a sense, and a “soft” girl. I thought of myself that way too sometimes. After that race though, that was changed, I had found grit! The next races, I was pumped to get out on the trail and ride my hardest.
Although learning skills and hints for biking may not seem like the most fun thing to do, it became one of my favorite parts of practice. My dad always knew how to make things fun and interesting for everyone at practice. When I was doubting my abilities, he was always there to make a corny joke, or give me a push of motivation. When I would ride, I was never confident in whether or not I was too slow, or timid. With the help of my coach, my confidence was boosted, and I am now able to do things I never thought I could on, and off the bike.
Race after race, I was having the time of my life. I made new friends, and got closer to my dad as well. Every pre-ride, and every award ceremony, he was there cheering me on. If I was feeling exhausted and ready to go home, I remembered coach’s face smiling and cheering, and I pushed myself harder.
Every race of the season I was honored to make the podium, I was honored to have my coach as my dad, and I was honored to be part of such a team and sport. I am proud of the person my coach has helped make me. Not only him, but the people involved in the sport, my family, and the great kids I got to race with. I’ve become more in touch with myself and what I can do. More confident in my abilities. More comfortable in my skin, and a happier person overall.
I am looking forward to next season, and all of the wonderful memories to be made.
I am so lucky to have my dad as a coach. He has introduced me to a new family, a new hobby, a new lifestyle, and a way to ride like I never even knew was possible for me. I can honestly say that I am a different person, and I am truly grateful.