Paying It Forward in the NICA Community

January 27, 2023

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I did not like high school one bit. Growing up, I was frequently bullied for my looks and I was always the one who got made fun of. I never felt like I had a solid foundation of people other than my family and a few friends.

Written By: Jacob Velasco

Throughout my early years, I never was able to find “my sport”. I went through soccer, basketball, track, you name it. In all of these, I never found much success and I felt just average in those sports. My self-esteem and overall well-being were very low in my early years of high school. I felt purposeless and I didn't have a sense of belonging anywhere in high school. I began to lose myself, gain lots of weight, and stayed inside for most of my days. 

In my sophomore year, I got wind of a mountain bike team in our area, named Cycling Development. I've always liked riding my bike around the neighborhood so I figured I'd give it a shot. I rolled up to the first introduction ride on an old bike, wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt. Everyone around me had nice bikes and proper cycling clothes, I'll never forget how out of place I felt. However, despite how out of place I felt, everyone was welcoming and kind. This motivated me to take a leap of faith and join the team. I had no idea how to ride trails and I felt so unsafe in my skin wearing my kit for the first time. I felt so awful and embarrassed coming to the first few practices.

However, I was the only one who thought this.

My peers and coaches didn't care how I looked or how fast I was. Everyone was so kind, motivating, and inspiring to me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere. I had people who believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself. I quickly fell in love with the sport and my team became like a second family to me. The cycling community blew me away and to be frank, it still does. NICA races were some of the best times in my life. I never get over the massive crowds cheering for everyone. Everyone cheered for everyone, no matter what team you were on.

    My success in this sport was a slow burn. By the time I was a senior, I had lost 35 pounds, and I secured a spot on the podium in my only race in 2020. This sport has taught me how to believe in myself, be confident in who I am and that I can do anything I put my mind to. These lessons extend far into all of the other parts of my life. This sport has made me who I am today; without it, I don't think I would be here today.
    Jacob Velasco

    I've really struggled with anxiety in my life. This sport has been causing me to make some massive strides towards breaking through my anxiety. Cycling is one of the only things in my life where I am snapped into the present and to fully enjoy the beautiful life I've been given. The community are some of the people I never feel anxious around, those that I feel fully comfortable with. This team has quite literally saved my life.  Continuing my slow burn I've found lots of success racing my local races around Folsom CA. In 2021, I raced for Phoenix Cycling Systems, and since 2022, I've been racing for Rhythm Racing! 

    After I graduated, I immediately wanted to give back. I wanted to start giving my experience to kids that needed it like me. I've been going to community college in my area so I've been able to coach for Cycling Development.  I started coaching, and began to like it almost more than when I was on the team. At NICA races I have almost more enjoyment being in the crowd cheering than actually racing! These kids began to look up to me and I quickly took on the role of a big brother, as a coach. I noticed I was making a change in these kids’ lives. Now I am going into my third year of coaching as a head coach for Cycling Development.

    NICA has given me a community that will have my back no matter what, and a sport that will last me a lifetime. Now as a coach I have the opportunity to give the wonderful gifts I've received to those that need them the most. 

    Often times it's so much more than just being a bike coach.

    It's about being there for them at the end of a rough day at school.

    Being the person who believes in them when they feel like no one else does.

    Being the person for them that you needed in high school.