Coming up to a steep drop on the final lap, Liam hucks himself over the edge (flagrantly breaking one of high school mountain bike league’s rules: keep two wheels on the ground). He swoops under a wooden bridge covered in cheering spectators and hammers home to the line, finishing 10th in the Varsity race.
At the finish, Liam looks exhausted. And very satisfied.
“I love racing the first two laps,” he said. “After that, it’s less fun. My hands started cramping. It’s more like you just kinda have to stay on your bike and finish the race.”
Sticking it through to the finish is something Liam and his teammates have been able to bring from the race course into the classroom.
“I’ve raced for three years,” Junior Varsity rider Calvin said. “It’s taught me not to give up.”
In addition to building character, high school mountain bike league has helped to build a community for these young athletes. When asked what her favorite part of racing has been, Junior Varsity rider Katie didn’t miss a beat.
“The people,” she said. “My teammates and my coaches are great. They’re just super friendly and encouraging and supportive. I’ve had a couple of my teammates chase me up a hill and it made me go faster than I would have on my own.”
The team practices together twice a week and if they aren’t racing they’ll usually ride together on the weekend too. That’s plenty of time to build strong friendships over a shared passion. On race weekends, the team will usually camp together the night before. That means a barbeque and, of course, s'mores. Gotta top off those glycogen stores before competition!
The campouts are just one of the perks that separate mountain bike league from other high school sports. The biggest one might be that these young shredders are learning a hobby they can pursue for the rest of their lives.
“I used to play soccer and it was kind of like, you have to go to practice,” Liam said. “But this is something I really want to do.” After all, how many people are going to go out and scrimmage when they’re 35?
But it isn’t always easy finding time to go to class, train, and be a normal teenager. Max, on the JV squad, exemplified that balancing act when he showed up to the race on Sunday morning after having gone to prom on Saturday night.
“I think we were out until two last night. I was pretty tired today,” he said, later adding,“It’s been a great way to vent stress from school, but depending on the timing it can compound the exhaustion.” Maybe today was one of those days. But what’s the point of being in high school if you don’t miss a little sleep?
After all of the races are over, there’s still one matter left to attend to. Lunch! Back at camp, the coaches are cooking up some delicious carnitas with the help of a half a dozen parent volunteers. The riders gather round to fill their bellies and recount their favorite parts of the course.
Looking at them eating and laughing together, it’s hard to imagine a better place for teens. High school can feel a bit like a rock garden, filled with sharp edges, treacherous roots and a couple of hidden drops. So if you’re going to make it through unscathed, it helps to have some experience sending it. Because despite the extra stress racing and training can sometimes be, “It’s totally worth it,” said Calvin. “This is probably one of the best parts of my high school experience.”