No Matter Who You Are: Phinneus McKenna’s Story – Riding with NICA While Legally Blind

December 25, 2023

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Written by: Olivia Nicholls

Phinneus McKenna has been a shining light of positivity on the North Tahoe Mountain Bike Team. Despite his limitations, he has found friendship, fun, and connection through the sport of mountain biking.

If you head out for a ride on the trails surrounding Tahoe City, you might cross paths with Phinneus McKenna. He’s a NICA alum now, after spending six years on the North Tahoe Mountain Bike Team. Like most seniors, he’s been reflecting on his time with NICA lately, deciding what to do post-graduation, and soaking up his final days of high school.

What you might not even notice, though, when you pass by Phinn on his afternoon ride, is that he is legally blind.

He got involved with NICA when he started at his high school. He’d always been interested in mountain biking, so when his friends let him know there was a team, he knew he wanted to try.

Phinn’s mother, Jill, just wanted him to have a space where he felt welcomed and valued. After learning more about NICA and the opportunity for racing, she shared with him that he could request accommodations, like an earlier race start or shorter mileage. “He stopped me almost at the beginning and said ‘ABSOLUTELY NOT!’. Over his time with NICA, I think the hardest for him has been watching his friends surpass him. However, it just allowed him to push further than he thought he could. His greatest triumphs are all of the races he completed. It still blows my mind and I have no idea how he does it.”

Over his six years of riding and racing, Phinn has never let his limitations override his love for cycling. With a few adaptations, he always crosses the finish line.

Jenna Hilton, one of the team's Managing Coaches and a parent volunteer, says that riding alongside him has been an honor. “Phinn always has a positive attitude during training rides and races, and he makes sure to encourage others on our team. He is an inspiration and light to all he encounters. As a senior this year, I think it's a special time to honor all that he has accomplished!”

His favorite memory is camping out at the Mammoth Mountain race with his teammates. “My team has adapted to me pretty well. They make sure I always have someone riding in front of me or behind me, which is really helpful. I want to say thank you to all of them, the guides and coaches who have done that. And NICA, you know, they always made sure they had a coach for me at the races.”

Nikki Peterson, the Nevada North League Director, is so proud of the way their community has embraced Phinn. Their race crew makes a few adaptations to make racing as safe and fun as possible for him. “We always make sure that Phinn is riding with a coach with a sign that reads ‘legally blind rider’. Before we send riders off, we let them know that Phinn is in the race and that he is legally blind. We remind kids that one of our core values is respect, and that that includes making safe passes and being patient. Phinn is very inspiring to all of us and such a great kid. We love having him race in our league!

Because of his impact on the league, Phinn was chosen to receive the ‘Super Sender’ award. The award recognizes students who make each event a more positive, fun, and inspiring experience and embody NICA’s core values through their character, drive, and ambition.

As his time as a student comes to an end, his mother Jill looks back on his journey with overwhelming pride. “NICA has been life changing for Phinneus. To welcome him with open arms and encourage him the way they did… from the incredible announcer always spurring Phinn on to every volunteer who made sure that his needs were met. I believe that together, Phinneus and NICA have pioneered a trail for people with disabilities to move forward in the mountain biking circuit! The advice I would give to any parent who is considering NICA is to absolutely go for it! You will receive the support and respect that you and your child deserves.”

Now that he’s heading off to graduation, Phinn is thinking about going to college. He wants to study automotive engineering. No matter what he chooses to do, he knows his NICA family in North Tahoe has his back.

When asked what advice he has for other students with visual impairments who might be interested in trying NICA, Phinn said “Just do it! It’s fun. Really, just do it if you want to. It’s going to be a really good memory!

No matter who you are, there is a place for you in NICA’s community! Whether you are a student, parent, coach, or donor, we thank you for all your effort to invite kids of all abilities to check out the transformative power of the mountain bike.

No matter who you are, there is a place for you in NICA’s community! Whether you are a student, parent, coach, or donor, we thank you for all your effort to invite kids of all abilities to check out the transformative power of the mountain bike. Do you want to support NICA’s mission of getting #MoreKidsOnBikes? Consider donating as part of our end of year campaign, and make an impact on the future of cycling! #RideTogetherThriveTogether