New River Valley Composite | Not Just Strong Muscles
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.