Learn How You Can Help Kids in Your Florida Community Through Mountain Biking

Video Transcription:

Jim: Hi, it's Jim Dodson, the Florida Bike Guy. I'm joined today by Mike, excuse me, Maxwell Gledhill, who is the founder and lead director of the Florida Interscholastic Cycling League. Now, you might not have heard of this, but it's something that you're going to hear of and I want you to pay attention to, because he has started, in Florida, a fantastic organization that's part of a larger national collegiate, National Interscholastic Cycling Association. So this has been around for many years, but he's just getting it started in Florida. So Maxwell, give us an idea what you're doing and what your goal is here.

Maxwell: Thank you. So, what we're doing is, we started the Florida Interscholastic Cycling Association. We just started in June of this year, and our goal, our overall goal, is to get more kids on bikes, to become part of cycling community, cycling family across the state. And we're doing this by starting in 2020, our first race series, and we want as many kids, no experience necessary to be a part of this program. And we're gonna put the tools out there to help people become a part of it. And we really need some coaches.

Jim: All right, so, back up a little bit. You have a Florida organization and the purpose of it is to put kids not just on any bike, but you want them on mountain bikes. This is a mountain biking association, is that correct?

Maxwell: Correct, yes. We are a mountain bike association. And the goal, again, is for kids to experience a mountain bike race or even just to kind of get out and experience the trails. They don't even have to race.

Jim: All right. So let's drop back a little bit and put this into perspective. I know that the umbrella organization is NICA. Is that correct?

Maxwell: Yes.

Jim: And give us the history of NICA and what's the level of participation that you've experienced or seen in other states?

Maxwell: Okay, great. So NICA was kinda formed in 2001 as the NorCal League, Northern California League. It was started by a high school math teacher who wanted to kind of do something after school with the students and it grew rapidly, and by 2009, NICA was formed as a 501c3 non-profit. And at that point, they became kind of the umbrella organization to develop and kind of model their program in NorCal to other states. And as of now, in 2018, there are 25 leagues in 24 states. California's split into two. And they're all over from Maryland, all the way out to Oregon. Currently, there are over 14,000 student athletes. As of 2017, there were a little over 6,000 coaches that volunteered. And a total of over 10,000 volunteers. Adult volunteers have participated in NICA leagues on a national level.

Jim: So this is a new program in Florida. You don't have leagues started. This is something that you'd taken the responsibility to begin in Florida, is that correct?

Maxwell: Correct. We are the first league in Florida that's affiliated with the NICA program.

Jim: Okay. And what's the age group that you're aiming at?

Maxwell: We are aiming at grades 6th through 12th. So as long as a student is in grade six, up until they graduate, we will gladly accept them and they can even be homeschooled students, so they do not have to attend a public or private school.

Jim: All right, so what is the program going to look like, so fast forward us, I know your race season begins each year in December and it goes through I think the Spring? Is that correct?

Maxwell: Yes.

Jim: So, fast forward us, the first race season that you envision would be 2020? And what do you envision beginning at that point?

Maxwell: Well, our vision, so our first season will be Spring of 2020. The races will start into February and run until early May. But the season starts in December, and that's when the teams will start practicing and during that time, teams all throughout the states, so this isn't just in say, Tampa, or Tallahassee, it's everywhere around the state. Teams will participate in weekly practices, learn the skills, work with their local trail organizations, to kind of work on the trails, and then prepare for the race events. And the really cool thing about the race events during the race season is, it's not just an hour-long race. They're weekend-long events. So we have the venue for an entire weekend, families come in, they spend Saturday doing a pre-ride, we'll have other events going on that day, and then Sunday all day, it's racing. So we don't throw all the kids out together at once, we'll race under categories. The sixth grade students with sixth grade students, we have female and male categories.

Jim: All right. And what about, I mean, do these kids have to be super competitive? What about that kid who wants to be involved, but they really don't foresee themselves racing?

Maxwell: Yeah, great question. They don't have to be experienced at all. In fact, I have a couple of really cool facts. Fewer than 10% of all NICA students out of those 14,000 national, nation-wide, fewer than 10% had ever even raced before. And fewer than 26% had  even ridden a mountain bike on a trail.

Jim Wow.

Maxwell: Our goal is not to develop the next mountain bike U.S. Olympic athlete or pro mountain biker, although Kate Courtney was a product of NICA, who just won, and she was part of the NorCal League. So it can happen, and the kids that really drive on that competitive experience, it will be there for them. But we want kids that just, to have experience to get outside on the trails. So no, there's no requirement at all, no experience mountain biking. We will train the coaches to train the students.

Jim: So, to me, I think about, listening to this, this sounds like a boy's sport. What if, how about girls?

Maxwell: Oh, yeah. It's definitely not just a boy's sport. We are, NICA, one of our key core values is inclusivity and equity. And we basically want everyone to be a part of it, and currently, nationwide, about 20 to 22% of all the student athletes and coaches are female. And our goal, and NICA's goal, is to increase that to at least a third. NICA's developed a program called GRiT, which is Girls Riding Together. And every league has, we have a GRiT team here in Florida, and we're ready to go. And our goal is to get out there and just basically expose mountain biking to everyone, but especially female riders and female coaches, and really try to recruit and get the girls out on the trail.

Jim: So is this gonna be something that's gonna be like clubs will form in schools, are these gonna be clubs that are forming between schools, not tied to a particular school? Give us some more information about that.

Maxwell: Yeah, that's a good question. It's kind of maybe a lengthy answer. I'll try to shorten it, but our goal is for teams to form at a school level. But that's probably not gonna happen at first, so we have a couple different options for team formation. So, there can be club teams if the school is okay with that, where the teams would actually use the school name and the school mascot. But we can also have what are called composite teams, and I formed a composite team in Tallahassee. Composite teams are teams where you can have kids from multiple schools within a geographic region. So if you're in a rural area, you might need to get kids from all over that county, or if you're in a city, you can have kids from a middle school and a high school, all on the same team. And you can have independent teams and independent riders, as well. So if there's no affiliation with the school, they can come up with their own name, and all of the teams will fall underneath the Florida League's rules, regulations, and insurance. So, we are not a part of the Florida High School Athletic Association. So, we have our own entity, so yeah. That's how we'll form them.

Jim: When I think of mountain biking, I think of danger, I think of mountains, and drops, and technical and a lot of stuff that could get kids in trouble. That's not necessarily what you're aiming at here. So, I think a lot of the people that watch our program are road bikes, road cyclists. And I think most of us may not really be familiar with the extent on availability of mountain biking, even in Pinellas County, that's so urbanized and counties that surround us. So, talk about that a little bit and talk about the nature of the track or the place where these kids will be conducting these events.

Maxwell: Okay, so we are a cross-country league. So this is not downhill racing, it's not Red Bull Adventure Racing. We actually encourage our students, athletes to keep their wheels on the ground. So that's kind of what it's about, but really what this is, it's more the trails that we'll be using will be across the state, and typically they'll be loops, anywhere from three to six miles. And NICA and the Florida League's main goal is safety. After fun. And you gotta have both. So, risk management is really high on our list. When we go out and select courses, we want them to be challenging, but more from a fitness level. They're not gonna be super technical trails, there might be a couple of trail aspects, but our whole point is that we want the kids to get out and enjoy it, to increase their fitness level, and maybe there will be a couple of challenges that they'll have to overcome, but it's actually very safe. Overall, NICA has really good statistics in terms of injuries and there's very few large injuries with this sport.

Jim: Okay. Well, you know, I think most things in life that involve fun involve some level of injury. I mean, riding a ride at the fair has some level of that involved, so I think we have to expect some amount of that. So we have kids that, and you and I were talking beforehand, the kids that are participating in this program generally have their own bike, is that correct?

Maxwell: Correct.

Jim: But your goal is to create a program so that they don't have to have their bike, and talk to us about that a bit.

Maxwell: Well, for every kid to participate, they will have to have a bike. But because of our inclusivity aspect, and our equity aspect, which are two of our main core values, you know, equity is about equal opportunity, so we don't wanna say, "Yes, anybody can do this, but if you don't have a bike, sorry." So our goal is to, at least in the first few years as a league, as the Florida state-wide league, is to secure a fleet of bicycles, so students on teams that they don't have a bike, but they really want to participate, they can apply for a scholarship. And once they apply for that, our goal is to lend that student the bike for the season. And they'll have that bike for the season. And as teams grow, what I've found is that, local communities really dive into this and provide a whole lot of support and bikes just kind of start being donated.

Jim: So a lot of people have mountain bikes in their garage, they've got kids that went off to school, don't use their mountain bike anymore, those are all sources of donations, correct?

Maxwell: Correct. And I will tell you that I know in the mountain bike community, it's always about the newest, coolest technology and kind of the most expensive bike, but it doesn't have to be. They can still be bikes with cantilever breaks, they can be 26 inch wheels, just anything to get the kids outside and experience this would be perfect.

Jim: Okay. So, I know that one of the things we really haven't talked about. We were discussing before we went on the air about so what is the goal, from a child's perspective, of why you have this organization? What are you molding in these kids?

Maxwell: Well, we are, NICA and the Florida Interscholastic Cycling, we are a character development organization first. We are not a race organization. We just happen to use a mountain bike as our tool and our goal really, besides getting the kids outside, I mean that's one thing, but we want to introduce them to challenges and so the racing aspect might be that challenge, and the whole goal of that is to have these kids kind of push themselves a little bit further than maybe they've pushed themselves before in a very fun and supportive environment. And by doing that, maybe they'll find their inner grit. Or they'll have a great success, or they'll experience failure, but in a really positive environment. And like I said before, the races are weekend long events. Families participate, the coaches are all made up of family members, so it's moms and dads, they're out riding with kids, they're not on the sideline. Obviously the day of the race, they're on the sideline, but at practices, they're riding with them.

Jim: Right.

Maxwell: Really, that is the goal, just to kind of have them experience something new, but challenge them, so it's also to be more self sufficient. And I'm a teacher and I have seen, working with kids on my own team in Tallahassee, you know if they get a flat and you're in the middle of a trail, you have to fix it. So you become self sufficient and you learn these skills that you didn't think have, and kids that do that on the trail will take that into the classroom. And so if there's a problem in algebra where they're like, "I just can't do it," well they think back to that determination that they had on the trail and they put forth a little more effort. They tend to realize that they can do it.

Jim: Well, Maxwell received the Florida Bicycle Association in 2017 Off Road Program of the Year Award. So, he's got some credibility behind him. I know that he's worked closely with Becky, the Executive Director of the FBA. You've been recognized by the FBA and I think that you have a tremendous program that I think people will really get behind. So, those of us who are watching this from the sidelines, what do you need the community to do to help you? How can we step forward?

Maxwell: Thank you. At this point between now and probably June of 2019, our goal, my goal, is to recruit as many volunteers as possible. Specifically coaches at first, and people that would like to help form teams and I know sometimes it seems like a daunting task. "I've never coached before, especially biking, and maybe I'm not even a mountain biker, maybe I'm a road biker." But that's okay. Sometimes the best coaches are the people with the least amount of, you know, honestly, experience. As long as you're dedicated to working with kids and showing new skills. So really that's what we need at first, because we won't have a league without teams. And we can't have teams without coaches. That's our first county goal. Our second goal is to also have volunteers to help me and my staff, not staff, because we're all volunteers, but me and a few core team members that I have now to be core race staffs, so every weekend event we put on, we need quite a handful of people to run these events. And we will be state-wide, so some of the people I'd need would go to every event, but just if we're at an event, let's say, at Alafia, just at the local cycling community, or just parents, anybody, they don't have to be cyclists, just came out for a day to volunteer to help us put on an event that's specifically for the kids, it would be amazing. And these really are, they're almost festival-like events.

Jim: I was asking Maxwell before we went on the air about, so where are your volunteers, where are these people coming from? And you've got a very cool map on your website that Kati's gonna put the link up for that directly, and what I was amazed to find out is that your volunteers and participants are coming really in through the central part of the state from up in Ellis where we're situated, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Lakeland, Orlando, sort of where the population hub is, and there's plenty of mountain biking opportunity in these areas already.

Maxwell: Yes. Yes, and what's great about the map is that anybody that's interested, you can look at the map and I've categorized the map. There are people on the map that say they want to be volunteers, but there's others that are just parents that are looking for coaches, so it's a great place to go to, even if you're just a parent, and you want your student athlete to participate, you can go on and find a potential coach near you, and communicate with those people to kinda get the ball rolling on this. And I'm starting next week, a tour across the state, to come and speak to anybody who wants me to come speak on how to become a coach and we will get that ball rolling.

Jim: Well, you're website is Floridamtb.org, and Kati put the link up there for the map that anybody who's interested can participate in and go to and indicate your willingness to be involved. You know, this is as simple as writing a check. If you wanna write a check, they need that, as well. Every program getting started needs program funds. They need volunteers, they need bicycles, they need bicycles that can be donated for scholarships. We need clubs, we need bike shops that can donate bicycles, even used bicycles. All of those are part of getting this thing off the ground. So, is there anything else you'd like to add before we sign off today, Maxwell?

Maxwell: The one thing that I wanna state, just real quick, is that this is more than just, you know, like I said, a race program, it's a family kind of program. And for all of you out there that have never even ridden a bike, although you probably do because you watched this, but you know people that haven't, I have seen this work where parents will actually go out and they end up buying mountain bikes to be a part of this program. So it's not just for the kids, it's for the families, and it's a great way to support local bike shops. And if you're a bike shop owner, if you can support a team, it will work both ways for everybody involved because the team, the kids, love going to a shop and talking with the people, learning how to work on the bikes, and it's just a really cool kind of hands-on family activity.

Jim: Well, that's terrific and I appreciate you joining us today. Go to floridamtb.org. Click on the map, Katie's got the link on the site, you can go back and look at this at any time. I'm the Florida Bike Guy, I'm Jim Dodson, from Jim Dodson Law. If I can ever help you, on any bike-related crash, or other injury case around Florida, I'm here for you. I always tell people you're more apt to be in a car wreck than in a bike crash. So, we're here to help you at any time and we will come to you if we need to. So, that's it for the Florida Bike Guy. Good luck, Maxwell, and I'll be watching for the development of your league and we'll catch up with you as the year progresses.

Maxwell: Thank you, appreciate it.

Jim Dodson
A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.