Violet Wojcik, an eighth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School, takes her mountain biking pretty seriously – to an extent.
She rides for the Goatheads, a composite team of athletes from around the metro area whose high schools do not have enough riders to form a full team for the fledgling New Mexico Interscholastic Cycling League.
The league formed this season under the auspices of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
“I enjoy a lot of things about it,” said Violet Wojcik, whose father Michael Wojcik is one of the team’s many coaches. “I like the team dynamic. Everybody can hang out in any group that they wish. You can ride with your friends. You can ride with people at your skill level. And you can laugh just to laugh. It’s super open and super fun.”
Local athletes have actually been competing in NICA events for some time, said Mary Grow, NMICL founding chair and director.
But they would have to travel to Arizona or Colorado to do so, she continued.
“We had teams and practices, but if you wanted to race you had to drive four to seven hours to Arizona to participate in youth-specific races,” she said. “But the kids who participated loved it. They realized how incredible it was that the races were all about the kids. It was just like any other high school or middle school sport. It was just about them. But it was challenging to get people to travel that far to race.”
The practices themselves make it worthwhile to participate, Violet Wojcik said.
“We practice three times a week,” she said. “Tuesdays, it’s girls-only riders and females-only coaches so that it supports women riders riding together. Thursdays, we ride in the foothills and everybody goes and it’s super fun. On Sundays, we go to Oak Flats and ride as a group and that’s super fun, too.”
The league this season has 16 teams with 156 riders and 91 coaches – a remarkable athlete to coaching ratio, Grow said.
As a coach Michael Wojcik sees his role as making sure the riders are enjoying themselves.
“The most important thing is that they’re having fun,” he said. “That’s the only thing, that’s they’re having fun and being safe. If they’re having fun and being safe then they will end up pushing their own boundaries and that’s a way to grow as people and riders. Me, personally, I’m very much into inclusion and making sure everybody is being nice all the time.”
Add inclusion to the list and that pretty much covers the league’s primary goals, Grow said.
Of course, mountain bikes can be a bit pricey so the league has already received a number of corporate donations and gifts in kind to help offset expenses for students in need, she said, including almost $20,000 from the state’s New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division’s Outdoor Equity Background.
“One of the things we were really passionate about was not making it a sport for kids who have those resources,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody who wants to participate can.”
A big key for the riders, Michael Wojcik said, is that mountain biking doesn’t have to be competitive. It is more about getting the students outside exercising and enjoying an activity that they can do for the rest of their lives.
“It’s so cool for me as a coach, just riding up and seeing kids challenging themselves and learning self-actualization,” he said.
Meanwhile, his daughter is developing into a strong rider who understands the appeal of mountain biking.
“I have had a couple of moments with a little bit of an adrenaline rush,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve gone over the handle bars, but every mountain biker will have moments where they cross a boundary and be a little bit or a lot bit scared. As a student athlete and as a human being, you can grow a lot from that. When you’re 12 miles out on the trail, you realize you can’t walk back. You have to get up and recover or hang out until you can keep moving.”