NICA introduced a new generation of female cyclists to the sport. Now, they’re giving back to the programs that started it all.
Written By: Olivia Nicholls
Inspiring the Next Generation
Tucked behind the Trek Headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin is a beautiful system of trails. They’re fun, flowy, and on October 5th, the forest was buzzing with the sounds of freehubs, laughter, and riders exclaiming "I want to be just like her when I grow up!"
When Trek Factory Racing’s Madigan Munro and Evie Richards hosted a meet and greet for NICA student-athletes in Wisconsin, the young women in attendance had the exciting opportunity to learn from the best.
"We could spend all week working on this stuff, and it would help me too!" said Madigan about the experience. "One of my biggest takeaways from the event was that being able to give back to a sport that I’ve received so much from is super important to me and I definitely want to prioritize that. It’s all about building strong women and girls, on and off the bike."
Madigan also shared her best advice with the students. "I think for young athletes just starting out, knowing that there is no pressure and as long as you keep finding passion and joy in the sport, everything else will fall into place. The most important thing is that you have that ‘why’ for loving your bike. And, there’s a lot more to life than just being a good cyclist. Ultimately, your character is what defines you."
Although it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be coached by the pros, the students in attendance reported that the most impactful part of the experience was seeing empowered women represented in the sport of mountain biking.
NICA Alumni Fill The Ranks of Trek’s Pro Team
Before finding her place with Trek, Madigan Munro was a NICA student-athlete. She was called up to the high-school start line much like the young women she now inspires through her professional career, and the skills NICA taught her have played a big part in her success.
I think learning that it’s all a progression was a big lesson NICA taught me. Also, how to push myself and to have fun while doing it. There were lots of things I took out of NICA about balancing school and sport, especially now with being in college and traveling all over the world.
Pictured: Madigan raced on her local NICA team before earning her spot with Trek Factory Racing
Madigan is in good company on the Trek Factory Racing Team. It was recently announced that she will be joined by fellow NICA alum Gwendalyn Gibson!
Not only are Madigan and Gwendalyn two of the fastest women mountain bikers in the U.S., but they both fell in love with the bike through NICA programs.
Gwendalyn, who is the newest member of the team, credits NICA with sparking her passion for cycling, and says Trek’s close relationship with the organization is one of the biggest reasons she’s excited to join the team.
"If NICA wasn’t a thing, I would have never even learned to ride a mountain bike," Gibson says. "I have goals in the sport... but then I also want to be in a position where I can inspire the next generation, too. [NICA] really changed the whole trajectory of my life, because not only did I have a space where I could develop my skills as a racer, but I also met some of my friends who are still my closest friends now, and I’ve been out of the NICA series for five years."
You go to a mountain bike race, and everyone is hanging out with each other and chatting, and everyone’s super friendly. The whole environment is what drew me to it.
Although her results speak for themselves, Gwendalyn also aims to inspire the next generation by sharing the difficult parts of her journey. "I want to race fast, but I also want to do something bigger. I want to show young women that no matter what you want to do, even if it seems impossible, you can do it. I hope my story can show that. I came from NICA, but my path was different than others. It wasn’t always easy, but nothing is unattainable if you really want it."
Finding ways to give love and support back to the wider cycling community is also a pillar of her career. "To me, being a professional cyclist isn’t just about riding fast. You also have to be a good steward of your community."
"I still want to be a part of [NICA] in any way I can because I’m sure there’s plenty of people just like how I was when I was 15. And they’ll have this space to explore mountain biking as their passion, and maybe they’ll be able to take it to the World Cup level if they want to. Or if they just want to ride their bike, I can show them how fun it is to just get out and ride your bike. One of the cool things about NICA is that it supports all aspects of mountain biking."
Years after graduation, Gwendalyn’s experience with NICA remains a motivator, even as she measures her success alongside the greatest athletes in the sport.
NICA taught me that it’s about so much more than a bike race. It’s a community of people who share the same passion, no matter how they choose to pursue it. That’s stayed with me, and it’s part of what drives me to be better, as a person and as an athlete.
Pictured: Gwen at NICA Summer Camp
Empowerment. Equity. GRiT.
Girls represent about 22% of NICA’s overall national student-athlete participation. NICA’s GRiT (Girls Riding Together) initiative plans to increase that number significantly over the next five years, to give more girls access to the transformative power of mountain biking.
NICA's goal is that all of the student-athletes who participate in our programs are empowered to make their mark on the world around them, whether they are future world cup pros, lifelong singletrack adventurers, or inspiring the next generation of women riders.
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