Tessa's journey with NICA began as a 6th grader at Ardis Ann Middle School in Bentonville, AR.
She wanted to try a sport, but was unsure about which to pursue until her PE teacher, Tim Keith, introduced her to the after-school "Bike Club." Tessa initially rode her BMX bike, but found herself drawn to the idea of riding trails.
Seeing this, Coach Keith told her about a local mountain bike team called the "Lincoln Junior High Leopards”. Her dad Saul was skeptical, worried that she might struggle due to her ADHD. After discussing the pros and cons with Coach Keith, Saul decided to let Tessa give it a try. He even gave her his own mountain bike to kick start her journey.
Instantly, she fell in love with mountain biking! Tessa participated in NICA every year, even serving the Arkansas Interscholastic Cycling League as a GRiT ambassador. She graduated from her high school team in May 2023.
Over the years, Tessa's time with her team made an ongoing impact on her self-confidence and well-being. Participating in a sport that she loved, and with a caring community around her, Tessa was able to manage her ADHD and overcame some of her struggles with schoolwork. She became an honor roll student with a 4.0 GPA, and credits NICA as being an outlet that helped her to focus on everyday tasks and achieve academic success.
Her dad came along for the ride, too. Saul earned his Level 1 Coaching license to help out the team. At practices and races, he used his mechanical skills to support kids and coaches with their bikes, serving as the “Team Mechanic”.
Tessa knew when she graduated that she wanted to start her own business. When the opportunity arose for Tessa and Saul to attend GORP (Greenhouse Outdoor Recreational Program), a University of Arkansas program developing entrepreneurs in the outdoor recreation industry, they knew they had to participate. Tessa was the youngest entrepreneur in their cohort.
GORP introduced them to the ins and outs of starting a business, which laid the foundation for Tessa and Saul’s new project, their very own bike brand “XNA Bikes”.
Even now, months after graduating, NICA remains an integral part of Tessa's life. She started coaching young kids with a local mountain bike group and shares NICA with everyone she talks to.
From a 6th grader struggling with ADHD and searching for a place to belong, to an entrepreneur making her mark on her community, Tessa's NICA journey has been nothing short of transformative. Her story represents the power that cycling has to change lives, build friendships, unite families, and most importantly, create spaces for everyone to enjoy!
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