In all his years of riding and coaching, Evan Kruse never considered that one difficulty faced by young riders is adapting to the occasional isolation of mountain biking. Even when there are other bikers on the trail, riders can sometimes feel all alone in the middle of nowhere. When Kruse acts as a roving marshal during a race, he now keeps that top of mind.
The Oregon League is split into two divisions, with one racing on Saturday and one on Sunday each race weekend. As head coach for my team, I'm pretty busy on race day. But, on the race day of the other division, I have plenty of time to volunteer, and my favorite thing to do is be an on-bike roving course marshal.
During the third race of the season at Mt. Bachelor, I was on my 2nd lap on the course. The last of the middle school boys had started their bonus lap. I figured I'd check in on these young athletes as they started their second grueling lap in the thin, cold Pacific Crest air.
I came upon one 6th grader who seemed pleased to have me there. I rode with him for a while, chatting about the course and racing, until I got a radio call saying a rider up ahead was in need of some motivational support. I explained why I was jumping ahead, and this young man said, "Thanks for riding with me. I never ride alone, and it was lonely out here."
This hit me pretty hard. I got a lump in my throat and teary eyes as I rode away. I had never considered that an athlete would feel isolated on the course, but that's exactly what I encountered. This young athlete was being bold and brave to continue as he did.
I yelled back to him, "I'll see you at the finish line!"
It made me think that we can do more in practice to give our young athletes the experience of riding alone, but still with help nearby, before being thrust into a competitive setting. I will certainly talk about it with my team and alter next year's pre-race schedule to include this experience in a baby-step fashion.
I participated in my first race over 30 years ago, so sometimes I feel like my experience should be very comprehensive. But I know it isn't. Taking the opportunity to observe student-athletes in competition by riding with them has been the most educational thing I've experienced as a coach. And it's a heckuva lot of fun!
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