A Utah Coach with GRiT
Written by: Cynthia Kastner
Imagine a typical partially-emptied school parking lot. Now picture well over 100 middle schoolers – with mountain bikes in tow – getting ready for practice. Angela Bedell might describe it as "organized chaos" but she optimistically overlooks the bedlam and sees fist-bumps, smiles, and energy.
Her first attempts at mountain biking, with her husband in 2002, were more about white-knuckling the handlebars and worrying about her baby at home with a sitter, than focusing on the ride itself. As she welcomed another six kids to her family, she found little time for biking. But as the kids grew older, and she kept at it, she slowly found her footing. After going to a handful of events, she fell in love with the NICA community and the support it fosters. With only a few years of mountain biking experience, she signed up to become a NICA volunteer. She recalls, "On-The-Bike 101 training really helped me realize some basic fundamentals that I was missing – it wasn't long before I discovered that this was something I was really passionate about."
"On-The-Bike 101 training really helped me realize some basic fundamentals that I was missing – it wasn't long before I discovered that this was something I was really passionate about."
Today, Bedell is going on five years as the head coach of the Draper Park Middle School team in one of NICA’s largest leagues, the Utah Interscholastic Cycling League. She has found not only a sports team but a community that fosters care and goodwill. She recalls one particular mud-slicked steep section of a trail that became virtually impassible as biker after biker slid down the hill. One boy saw a small patch of grass to the side where there was enough traction to get up the hill. Bedell was inspired as she watched, "Instead of hopping back on his bike and finishing the race, he set his bike down, and ran back down the hill to push other athletes up the hill. Many of them weren't even from our team! He got more joy out of helping others and cheering them on than of his own progress on the race course."
By celebrating athletes who cheer on and push each other uphill, rather than focusing solely on those who win, NICA coaches, like Angela Bedell, are helping to create a more positive and empowering sports culture for young people. They prioritize the development of the whole athlete, thus helping to create a new generation of young people who are not only skilled cyclists but also embody values like teamwork, perseverance, and empathy.
"I always try to bring it back down to loving each individual kid. And helping them discover what they love about mountain biking, nature, and themselves through this experience."
For Bedell, grit is an integral part of coaching, biking, and life lessons. She wants to help her team and encourage them: " sometimes you just have to put your bike in the lowest gear and just keep pedaling" and "You conquer yourself, not the mountain." She started as an 8-year-old on a bike with a banana seat and streamers flapping in the wind. Now she leads her team through trails at the edge of Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, frequently spotting coyotes, porcupines, turkeys, deer, and hawks. However, for Bedell, she views her role as a Coach stating, "I always try to bring it back down to loving each individual kid. And helping them discover what they love about mountain biking, nature, and themselves through this experience."
In addition, Bedell has found great success and joy in encouraging other female riders; both the athletes and their moms – to embrace mountain biking. Currently, girls represent 22% of NICA's overall student-athlete participation. NICA strives to increase this through their GRiT Program (Girls Riding Together) and empower female student-athletes to make their mark both on and off the bike. While working with the athletes on her team, she's found along the way that sometimes female riders just need a little extra encouragement and attention to make sure they feel welcomed and needed. Through her efforts with her team and in her community, Bedell has slowly increased female participation on her team, year by year, landing at 47% female student-athletes on her team for the 2023 season!
Bedell's focus on individual growth and development reflects her (and NICA’s) belief that the lessons learned on the trails extend far beyond the sport itself. Through her coaching, Bedell strives to help her student-athletes discover their own love for mountain biking, nature, and themselves, and conquer their personal challenges along the way. Her journey from a young girl with a banana seat bike to a seasoned coach and trailblazer demonstrates the power of perseverance and the impact that a dedicated mentor can have on the lives of those they guide.
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