What do you make of this scenario? In the midst of the Karen Hornbostel Memorial Time Trial Series at Cherry Creek State Park, my 10 year-old son hopped off his bike to gulp some water.
"You stopped during the middle of a race to drink water?" I ask him incredulously (which explains why his time increased by five minutes from the previous week). May I point out that it wasn't sunny or even hot, and in fact the riders had the benefit of a cloudy breeze on the afternoon in question.
"Yeah, well, Mom, I was really thirsty. I tried to do it while riding, but I grabbed the bottle closest to the seat, and then I couldn't fit it back into the holder. And then I just took a little water break."
His friend and teammate Savannah, 16, adds to the picture. "I saw him going maybe 12 mph and he was just waving at everyone with a huge smile on his face."
Water breaks and waving during a race?
God bless my son. I really mean it.
His blithe, relaxed manner might suggest otherwise, but Casey couldn't be more proud to be a member of the Front Rangers team, a group originally founded in 1993 by the Denver Police and elite cyclists to keep inner city kids off the streets. Soon after, the organizers created a race team because the kids fell in love with biking. More than a decade later, the Front Rangers stays true to its community service roots by hosting monthly gatherings where some 50 volunteers (myself included) take up to 50 or more kids biking, bowling or for other social outings. The team also offers educational scholarships for its kids, those part of the racing team and the broader Front Rangers community.
This is the ideal team for a kid like Casey, who is content to serve as one of the 18 junior race members. He is just as content bringing up the rear or helping younger kids master their bikes on group rides. My son has always been drawn to individual sports. I've come to see that his experience with the Front Rangers is the best of both worlds: how he performs is up to him but he also learns the value of serving on a team.
"Everyone has a place here," says Paul Braun, FRCC Racing Team Director. "We recognize our juniors have full lives beyond racing, and we want them to figure out on their own to what degree they want to pursue the sport." Several Front Rangers have gone on to pursue collegiate, elite and professional cycling (in Europe). Braun noted the demanding nature of the sport, especially for the younger kids who are likely to burn out if they're pushed too hard.
This makes good sense to me. I'm happy to let Casey build confidence, endurance and skills while quite literally enjoying the ride. So what if he says hello to every passing biker and walker? So what if he eyes cars and trees and dogs? He's a friendly kid, a curious kid. So what if he can't really keep up with his teenage teammates? Savannah, Andrew, Spencer, Nicholas and the others understand. They look out for him, allowing him to set up his stationery trainer right beside them each Wednesday during the time trials. "Hey guys, here's our training spot," Casey tells them, delighted to be in grown-up company.
What serendipity that we became involved with the Front Rangers. Right now in fact, Casey is on a training ride with his mentor and friend, Jim Levy, one of the adult volunteers who, in his other life, works as a Denver realtor. Jim is a passionate cyclist, and get this, he and his family own twenty-six bikes, both racing and recreational. His two daughters were elite cyclists growing up and through their collegiate years, and now that they're away from home, Jim volunteers his time. "I find it so satisfying to share my love for the sport," he tells me when he and Casey return from their morning jaunt. "Biking is for life: you can do it anywhere in the world and at all ages."
In his fifteen years as a Front Ranger, Jim has mentored lots of kids like Casey, helping them to develop their skills.
Maybe when he gets older Casey will become more competitive. Maybe not. At this tween stage he and his twin sister are entering, I don't really care if my son rides to race. In the long run, I prefer he races to ride. He's already got a winning attitude because he understands the secret to happiness is finding joy in the simple things. Like water breaks.