This past weekend, the Wisconsin chapter of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) held its state championships in Waterloo, WI just 40 minutes outside of our hometown of Madison, WI. If you haven’t yet heard of NICA, this organization is doing some amazing work in growing the next generation of cycling enthusiasts.
NICA develops interscholastic and community-based cycling programs for kids. Their mission is to build strong minds, bodies, character and communities though cycling. This season NICA has over 22,000 student athletes and nearly 1,000 middle and high school teams in 31 states. If you have seen a large group of teens and preteens at your local trailhead recently, it is very likely they‘re part of a NICA program.
I have been to my fair share of bike events, but this was my first time at a NICA event. Before I even got to the start line, I could feel something special in the air and I knew that I was at more than a mountain bike race. In the “Team Pit Zone”, instead of hyper competitive pre-race posturing, I saw young athletes helping each other get ready for their event. Seeing so much comradery, encouragement and selfless support truly warmed my heart.
By the time I had arrived at the race course, a race was already in progress and I heard the sound of cow bells and other noise makers coming from a tree line in the distance. I worked my way through the woods toward the cacophony of horns and bells and soon came upon a large contingent of coaches, parents, student athletes and spectators (many in costume as Halloween approaches) cheering their lungs out for the racers as they navigated a particularly tough section of single-track. While fairly standard race day etiquette, I noticed something more. Most onlookers were outfitted in their schools’ colors and instead of reserving their shouts of support for only their team mates, they were cheering for and sending words of motivation and encouragement to EVERY student athlete that passed. The inclusivity and spirit amazed me.
I was absolutely blown away by my first NICA event experience and walked away knowing that it’s no secret why NICA leagues are popping up across the country and their participation numbers continue to grow year over year. If you know a middle or high school aged kid looking for some super fun and supportive mountain bike action or an adult interested in volunteering with a local club, head over to the NICA website to find a league near you! Also, check out this inspiring video from last year’s championship race.