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Cyclist balance camaraderie, competition while participating in a non-traditional sport

The St. Croix Valley Youth Bike Club's teams have a race at Whitetail Ridge Sunday, Oct. 16. The club, started as a way to find a sport for kids who don't like “traditional” sports, now has four competition teams, plus a “development” team for younger kids. Shown, at left, is club member Trace Krattley. (Submitted photos)

John-Eric Klecker, 13, started biking the Whitetail Ridge trail (in Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park, city’s north side) about two years ago, with a few friends.

He’s not interested in football or other sports that schools traditionally offer. But he loves mountain biking.

So he was very happy when his mom told him about the St Croix Youth Cycling Club.

“It’s really fun,” Klecker said. “I like being outside.”

Klecker’s mom, Cassie Erickson, said she thinks it's good for him to have this group.

“He finally found a bunch of kids who like to do what he likes to do,” Erickson said. “It’s a great opportunity and it’s growing.”

That is one reason Cathy and Chad McDonald started the St Croix Youth Cycling Club in 2014. They wanted their kids to be active, but they weren’t interested in more “traditional” sports like soccer or football.

Chad had gone mountain biking in the past, so the McDonalds decided to try and get their kids out biking.

But at the time, there were no teams in the area for the kids to join. So, the McDonalds searched the internet and found NICA — the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.

They started up a team, and opted to join the Minnesota NICA league instead of Wisconsin, as the race trails are actually closer to the area than the Wisconsin race trails, and the Minnesota NICA includes one race at Whitetail Ridge.

Cathy said her kids took to biking really well.

“They pretty much loved it from the get-go,” she said. Her youngest was about nine when he started, and though he struggled at first, she said he’s worked hard and is now doing very well.

“One of the NICA values that we try to instill in the kids is that they have a strong mind, body and character,” McDonald said. “That they also learn some perseverance, because it’s not an easy sport when you first start. There’s a lot of skills that you have to learn to be successful.”

She said a lot of the kids gain a great sense of accomplishment, and some really good friends.

The kids aren’t the only ones who’ve been enjoying the club.

“We have a really good group of parents,” McDonald said. “They come out of it wanting to learn to mountain bike themselves. We’ve had several parents from our first season who now have gotten bikes and now are learning to be coaches.”

St Croix Youth Cycling Club is lead by a group of head coaches, including Chad and Cathy McDonald, Steve Stillwell, Julie and Tom Gujer, and Cal Collins. They’ve received NICA training and put in hours of field work to earn head coach certification.

Under the head coaches are assistant coaches, then ride leaders and sweepers. Sweepers — usually parents who are just starting to get involved — ride along with the kids and make sure no one is injured or lost.

St Croix Youth Cycling Club riders come from River Falls, like Klecker, as well as Prescott, Stillwater, Baldwin, Hudson and Spring Valley.

St Croix Youth Cycling Club has four competition teams, and a “development” team for fourth through sixth grade kids.

Though the club is not affiliated with any schools, NICA rules state that if there are more than five riders from a single school district, they have to be on their own team. So the middle and high school teams have been split. There is a Hudson middle school team, and a composite middle school team, and a Hudson high school team, and a composite high school team.

The riders take on more challenges as they go up through the teams.

The development team kids are still learning the skills necessary to race. They’re not required to take part in races, but are given opportunities to try.

The middle schoolers race one lap — which is about 20-30 minutes. On the high school teams, freshman typically race two laps, sophomores race three, and junior varsity — typically juniors — will ride four laps. Varsity will ride five laps.

Race courses are typically between three and a half and four miles, McDonald said.

The teams practice twice a week at Whitetail Ridge, and go visit other trails over the weekends.

They work on speed and other skills like balance.

And, of course, all that training prepares the kids for a series of five races per season.

The kids’ top four individual scores are added up to determine their overall individual ranking.

The team’s ranking is taken from the scores of the top four riders.

This weekend, the kids are gearing up for a race at Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park. It’s their second-to-the-last race of the year. The next one after this is considered the state championship.

Erickson said he’s really looking forward to having the home trail advantage.

So are Jared, Jaycie and Hunter Navarro, of Prescott.

Jared, 17, is on the high school team. Hunter, 13, the middle school team, and Jaycie is on the development team.

“It’s going to be a fun ride,” said Jared of this weekend’s (Oct. 16) race.

Jared heard about the bike club at school two years ago, and talked his dad into going to a meeting with him.

“Me being the oldest, I kind of started it in the family,” Jared said, “and then all of us kids started and we all enjoy it.”

Jared said he’s always had a passion for biking.

The Navarros now ride as a family on weekends.

Jared said he really enjoys mountain biking.

“When you’re riding the mountain bike trail there’s more adrenaline rush, I guess than just riding on a straight road,” he said.

Hunter said the best part of mountain biking is “the jumps.”

The best part of the club, though, they said were the people: coaches, teammates and friends met while racing.

“Not just riding,” Jared said, “The team kind of is more of a family than it is just random people.”

That encouraging atmosphere is one thing Erickson said she really enjoys seeing while she’s watching Klecker bike.

“It’s a very different sport besides the fact that they’re geared toward working out for an hour and a half, two hours... they’re teaching them safety, they’re teaching them trail maintenance,” Erickson said. “It’s highly competitive, and the kids compete with each other, but push each other to be better versus trying to take each other’s spot on a team.”

The Whitetail Ridge race starts off at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, and will last until 4 p.m. Younger riders go first, followed by middle, and then high school riders.

Anyone interested is welcome to come cheer the racers on, and find out more about the teams.

See more about the bike club at https://stcroixcomposite.com/.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

(715) 426-1048
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