No Matter Where You Start: Ambra Baldwin Hart’s Story

December 11, 2023

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Written by: Olivia Nicholls

“I’ll be the best sweep you’ve ever had.”

Two years ago, that was Ambra Baldwin Hart’s motto. She’d just signed up as a Level 1 coach for the Mount Horeb Mountain Biking team to support her 6th grade son who’d joined. She didn’t have much confidence as a coach or a rider, but was encouraged to try anyway by the team’s female coaches. She’d grown up riding bikes and spending time outdoors, but had never really ridden a mountain bike as an adult.

Ambra knew she wouldn’t be the fastest coach, but wanted to be a part of NICA because she had seen the impact it had on her children. Both of her children are neurodivergent, and at the time he joined NICA, her oldest son was struggling with behavioral regulation challenges and severe anxiety. At his first practice he begged her to take him home, but they stuck it out. Ambra is so glad they did.

“My son was embraced by his fellow teammates, and the entire NICA community was so supportive and encouraging. I knew we had found a special place, and he fell in love with the sport, the team, and all that the Wisconsin league had to offer!”

It wasn’t just her oldest son that benefited, though. Ambra also noticed the positive impact that riding had on the whole family.

“We quickly fell in love with mountain biking, and it was amazing to have an activity that we could do together. As a family that has lots of struggles with mental health, it felt so good to have an activity that had such a positive impact not only on our physical health, but our mental health as well. We found ourselves riding regularly because we all felt so much better.”

As Ambra spent more time on the bike, her confidence in coaching grew. She noticed that her career as a Montessori educator was a natural fit for the NICA values and structure.

Wanting to improve, she attended NICA’s On The Bike 101 course and Leadership Summit. Things clicked for her off the bike before they really clicked on it.

“Hearing the philosophy that NICA embodies and the ‘best practices’ that are encouraged resonated so much for me from an experiential education standpoint. I knew that I had a knowledge base that I could bring to the table while my mountain bike skills continued to develop.”

But the moment Ambra knew she had a true role as a coach was when she saw a familiar sight— a 6th grader, brand new to mountain biking, teary eyed at his first practice.

“That was when I realized I wasn’t just a number in a ratio. I knew that he needed to feel safe, he needed support, and he needed to be reminded that he was awesome. We made it through that practice together. I never left his wheel. Seeing him ride now, navigate single track like it’s nothing, roll over features, approach things with confidence — that’s why we coach. He has a smile on his face every practice. He is brave and strong. I know that I am a positive part of his story. I know that I can make a difference in the story of all of our riders. I want to show up and be my best self for them every week. They deserve that.”

Now, only two years after joining the team, Ambra has cemented her confidence in coaching. When her Team Director and Head Coach announced that he would be stepping down, she knew she was the right person to fill the role. During the middle of the busy season, she earned her Level 3 coaching license and is preparing to take on the leadership of her team.

“It’s hard to articulate how big of an impact NICA has had on our family. It sounds cliche to say ‘It changed our lives’ but it really has. NICA not only helped my son, but it helped me be a better parent. NICA brought us into a supportive community that is welcoming, no matter how ‘good’ we are as riders.

In addition, because we started riding, my parents started riding again. Now three generations hit the trails together. We are closer as a family, we are healthier as individuals, and our mental health has greatly improved.

I want to be as supportive and involved with this program as I can, because I want to see it thrive. I want other kids, other families, to experience even a fraction of the benefits that we have gotten from our time with NICA. I want kids to feel successful, to experience the joy that biking brings, to see their worth as a member of a team, regardless of how fast they can ride. NICA is so much more than racing.

As I continue to develop as a rider, I know that I can be an asset to our riders, their families, and our coaching community. I can’t wait to see what the future of the Mount Horeb team, the Wisconsin League, and the NICA community brings!”

Ambra began coaching because she wanted to be a small part of the sport that had brought her children so much joy. She has come so far from being the mom who claimed she’d just be “The best sweep you’ve ever had.”

No matter where Ambra started, her hard work, dedication, and compassion today will have an immeasurable impact on the lives of the students, parents, and coaches she supports.

No matter where YOU start, there is a place for you at NICA! Check out our suite of programming for student-athletes, our coach licensing tools, or find a team near you.

Can you help us get #MoreKidsOnBikes? Consider donating as part of our end of year campaign, and make an impact on the future of cycling!