Positivity was in the air, it was palpable, you could feel it mixed with excitement and anticipation. I am sure the kids were nervous, as for many of them this was their first bike race ever, but the intense optimism and positive energy seemed to overshadow any nerves that may have been present.
This past Sunday was a gorgeous and sunny spring day; a great day for New Jersey’s inaugural NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) race. After the original first race was disappointingly cancelled, the student athletes, coaches and volunteers were eager to see this race go off without a hitch. The forecast looked questionable throughout the week, but as the day drew nearer it began to improve more and more. The morning of the race the sun was shining and there was not a cloud to be seen. Many volunteers and teams arrived the day before for registration, setup and final checks of the course layout and conditions.
People from all different parts of the state and cycling community were united and working toward one goal; to make sure all of the kids had a great first racing experience. One of the great side effects of the NICA initiative is that it seems to have brought an even greater sense of unity to the cycling community. People put aside team rivalries, bike shop politics, etc. to work together toward a common goal.
Most kids learn to ride bikes at a very young age, but many of them don’t realize at that time that cycling can be a competitive sport as well. NICA has illuminated this fact to many young people here in New Jersey as well as the eighteen other states that currently have leagues. Several of our student athletes were not involved in other sports and so this opportunity to ride and race bikes gives them an option to compete that they may not have realized existed. During the race I had a conversation with one parent who said, “I tried to get my son involved in other sports, but he wasn’t that interested. I would have to drag him to tennis practice or track practice, but with biking he actually wants to go and looks forward to practice.” Hearing a comment like that from a parent makes it even more worthwhile, knowing that this young man may have found a sport that keeps him active and engaged.
In addition to the weather being pretty much perfect the races seemed to go off flawlessly and on schedule. All of the kids on our team seemed to have a very positive experience for their first race. They had been practicing all throughout the winter, learning skills and building fitness in the cold, in the snow and sometimes even indoors when conditions were just too extreme. In this first race our student athletes were able to see where they stacked up compared to their competition. I think this helped to fuel the fire of many them as it made them realize that they need to continue to learn and push harder in practice if they want to get on the podium the next time around.