A recent NICA event provided experiential learning, team building, and fun...
By Heather Skyler
In late October, 650 student athletes, 300 coaches and other assorted friends and family gathered in the Pennsylvania mountains to have an adventure. The Raystown Radness and PICL Jam was an end-of-season celebration for members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Cycling League (PICL). There was no racing involved, but plenty of riding.
The event was held at The Allegrippis Trails at Raystown Lake, one of Pennsylvania's top rated mountain bike destinations. Designed by mountain bikers, the system's 24 trails are arranged as stacked loops, so riders can plan a route as short or as long as they would like. And this design worked perfectly for the PICL Jam.
Planned by PICL league director Mike Kuhn and NICA Adventure Program Manager Melissa Davies, the gathering was held on "the kind of quintessential fall day that gets people on bikes in Pennsylvania," said Kuhn.
NICA's Adventure program was founded with the enduring support of Salsa Cycles, a company that believes that the promise of adventure by bike can produce infinite rewards. The Adventure program supports leagues and NICA Coaches to apply the principles of adventure and experiential education, and helps student-athletes build relationships and interpersonal skills that will serve them beyond their time with NICA.
One of the unique things about an adventure event like the PICL Jam is that it’s not a race, said Kuhn. “A race is a high intensity, tightly controlled experience. This challenged kids in a totally different manner. Being on the bike for five or six hours requires a different mindset than racing a bike for 60 minutes.”
He said the weekend was an opportunity to think intentionally about alternate ways to work on individual progress and goals, group dynamics and team building. “The overall idea is to think more broadly about the development of the student athlete in a way that’s not just thinking about competitive sports,” he said, adding “But the main goal is to have fun riding with your team.”
Davies said events like these are really about the social emotional connection. “It’s challenge by choice,” she explained. “We are building a culture where kids are not always forced into challenges. Riders get to choose, and building community and relationships is the goal.”
Also, she added “It builds stoke.”
Teams designed their own routes ahead of time, fitting them into three categories: mild, medium, and spicy. Muy Caliente levels. Riders spent the day traversing the Allegrippis Trail System and collecting punches at various checkpoints that corresponded with the ride. One group even designed a muy caliente option and visited all of the checkpoints.
“There is a level of unpredictability in the event. You forgot your snacks in the car, someone drops a water bottle…you run into adversity and make a plan. I love the life lesson of that,” said Davies.
Rides ranged from 10 to 35 miles. “At the end of the day it’s usually the longest ride these kids have ever done,” said Kuhn. “It really provides the envelope of risk management and experience that we’re building in all NICA programming.”
Davies said having a common objective as a team also makes this type of experience unique. “They are designing the day so everyone shares the common goal. It becomes a beautiful team experience. It’s another type of adventure on a bike, and hopefully it inspires them to stay on bikes for the rest of their lives.”
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