NJ NICA Recaps and Musings

KenS

JORBA: Director
JORBA.ORG
#1
As many of you know, in 2017 New Jersey became the 19th state to launch a National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) League. After over two years of planning, the New Jersey Interscholastic Cycling League (NJICL) held its inaugural race on April 23rd 2017.

My involvement with the league began in February of 2016. I heard about the league, looked up the program, and reached out to offer assistance. As a father and advocate, I felt very strongly that this would be the best thing to happen to NJ mountain biking in a very long time. Since then I have gone from the league's JORBA Liaison, to registration dood, to Assistant Race Director.

I am by no means a blogger or writer, but after each race weekend I have come home and felt the urge to type away; to throw down a stream on consciousness and clear my head. I can't promise to entertain or post at regularly scheduled intervals, which has always stopped me from jumping on the mtbnj blogwagon, but after a posting a few recaps on the league blog I figured "why not".

Please feel free to add your feedback and experiences from the races to this thread. The team of folks putting these races together strives to provide the best possible experience for the students, and our MTBNJ community really rocks.
 
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KenS

JORBA: Director
JORBA.ORG
#2
Race #1, Sunday April 23rd, 2017. Recap video from www.videotrailreviews.com is here

The phrase “New Jersey mountain biking community” is something we all use regularly. Today that phrase was completely redefined; our community has an incredible future. Today we were privileged to take part in a historic moment.

Family, student athletes, New Jersey league staff, NICA national staff, sponsors, coaches, volunteers, parents, spectators, old friends, new friends; this is who made New Jersey’s mountain bike community so special today. Nearly every place I looked, everyone I spoke to, everything I experienced, left me with an incredibly positive and nearly overwhelming sense of pure happiness. It took two hours of driving home for me to process the feelings I had from the second our first wave of riders hit the course. Any facial movement that wasn’t a huge smile felt awkward. In some ways, the foreign perma-smile threw me off for the rest of the day. Speaking to people whom I have known for years felt different, almost surreal.

Thirty minutes prior to the varsity race, I had a rare moment of solitude for the weekend, and my brain went into overdrive: must ride! I checked with Julia, who not only said she could cover my position, but enthusiastically said “oh yeah, you should ride!” Minutes later I was suited up and hitting the course for a hot lap. No warm up, no thoughts other than riding our course.

So many thousands of hours of preparation led to this moment for our students, and I wanted to experience it. I spun past the feed zone and went into the first climb hard, appreciating the time spent marking the path around the barn. Chuckling inside, I remembered that course tape is set with sponsor’s names legible, flat and low in the wind.

As marshal point #1 appeared, a quick “thank you” to the marshal was all I could muster. I descended though the first chicane and appreciated the time spent by our race staff to ensure safety standards were upheld. Suspension locked and max effort through the sweeping turn, I hit the second climb to the ball field.

Thoughts of my 8-year-old at baseball practice danced in my head. Knowing what today meant for him, for his generation and younger in our state, momentarily brought me back to reality.

Legs screaming for attention, I crested the climb and ignored the legs. I hammered the flat section until turning into the woods along Patriot’s Path. Another chicane followed, which effectively slowed riders before a sweeping, off-camber and potentially slick turn. Another course-marshal point, another greeting. Singletrack, with just enough rocks to feel at home in New Jersey followed, as thoughts shifted to breathing and flow, leg pain a distant memory.

Passed the short and steep grunt, noting yesterday’s trail work to fix the flow. Over the bridge, thinking of Tom armoring the entry trail on a rainy weekend. I turned left onto the fire road, knowing the fire road climb would be where I lost time today. Tried to ignore the thought.

Locked suspension and looking up, I spotted a course marshal riding up ahead. Goal spotted. We exchange greetings; “how you doin’?”, “this is awesome”, “See you lataaa”, and I moved on, focused on the summit. Knowing this was the final climb, I pushed the pace as much as my legs and lungs would allow.

The infield music grew increasingly loud, and all thoughts shifted to speed. Legs screaming, passing the course mashal and first aid tent, I was too gassed to respond to Jason’s heckling.

I crank into the finishing stretch and look at my GPS…just over 18 minutes. I wouldn’t have podiumed in the 8th grade-race! Somehow this elicits a sense of accomplishment; what they had to deal with out on our course, at our race, in our state. Knowing what kind of effort it took to finish and leave it all out there. I have lined up in many races, over many years, and some of them required much more effort. None of them came close in pure happiness, in pure accomplishment.

I quickly changed and made my way to the varsity staging, to join the throngs of cheering spectators, and watch the future of Garden State mountain biking take off. After the final wave, I retired to the registration tent feeling better than I had all weekend. NJ Rocks.

Registration musings. Meeting our community from the registration tent is about as cool as it gets at a NJICL race. One of the best experiences of the weekend was a parent who showed up on Saturday. He had just left his local bike shop, nearly an hour from the venue. The wrench in the shop mentioned our race, our league. The parent had never heard of NICA, but was interested enough to look us up and drive up to the venue.

When he saw that registration was open on Saturday, he shared his story and registered his son for the league and all five races of the season, leaving with “see you tomorrow, and wow, thank you so much for this.”

It is not too often that someone working the registration table at an MTB race hears a customer say something like that. It is almost unheard-of. I was fortunate enough to catch back up with this parent on Sunday. He said: “Your staff really knocked this out of the park! My son has a tourney on the next race day, but we are doing both! It will take some juggling but he is HOOKED!”

Podiums. My first NICA podium experience was at a Virginia League race for our training weekend. The Virginia Crew was so pro, and the students seemed incredibly happy. I left the race with a new respect for NICA. I had no idea how differently our own podiums would affect me. Every time our winners raised their hands, or awkwardly walked to their first podium ever, or graciously accepted their award like a seasoned pro, I couldn’t physically control the elation I felt. I looked out at the gallery and felt incredibly proud of the experience which our MTB community created for these kids.

Conner. One of our hardest working volunteers and coaches has a son who is years away from racing age for the league. I relate, as my daughter is similar in age. This kid quite possibly did more miles in laps of the Pit Zone and “lawn” setup than any single mountain biker at the venue for the entire weekend. He watched intently as racers took off, or crossed the line. I couldn’t help but feel that we had a mission as a league to sustain our momentum, to grow the experience for him. I distinctly felt that this village, this festival atmosphere we created, this was a life moment. He may not remember today when he is an adult, but he will remember it next week, next season.

We will be there, and he will have an opportunity, our kids will have the opportunity, to race mountain bikes. In New Jersey. Wow!
 

KenS

JORBA: Director
JORBA.ORG
#3
Race#2, May 7th, 2017. Recap video from the amazing www.videotrailreviews.com folks is here.

Prep.

NJICL Race #2, Morris Mania, is in the record books. The weekend began with a gloomy forecast after a long string of beautiful weather, seemingly since our inaugural race, two weeks prior. Inwardly dreading the worst-case-weather scenario, we outwardly bet on bright skies and rolled into Morristown, stoked for another New Jersey NICA race.

Race weekend for the crew began on Friday. I arrived at Lewis Morris Park after a rainy, uneventful, drive. The park staff was incredibly supportive of our efforts and on-site Friday to greet us. They had just cleared “that tree”, which had become the inside joke among our crew. “Hey BJ, did you hear there was a tree down on course?” “Oh really Chris, where?”; “Hey Jason, tree down on your course…”, “tree down guys”, etc.

We were happy to have Josh from the NICA Minnesota League on-site to offer experience and insight at the director level. Some course layout tweaks and final plans for setup day went down, and we departed for dinner courtesy of Chef Kruse.

Saturday morning with guests in town means Taylor Ham, egg and cheese on the way to the venue, or pork roll, egg and cheese depending where you reside. Josh and I struck out at Bill’s, thanks to a water line break, but scored the jersey-standard sandwich at a local bagel shop.

We made it to the park at 7:30, fully fueled, and jumped right into race setup. In a blink registration and pre-ride was opened. It is incredibly cool to see so many teams riding together, bonding, strategizing for race day. I longed for a ride, and planned to get out at 5 pm, when registration closed. Weather changed from clear, to mist, to drizzle as the day progressed, but the course remained solid.

At 4:50 p.m., 10 minutes from ride time, the skies opened up. Heavy rain turned the infield grass to mush and dashed any hopes of a ride. We shut down on time, lowered tents to weather the storm and packed up. Nearly 150 student-athletes registered!

Race.

Race day means rise before the sun and arrive to greet it, address critical course issues prior to opening pre-ride at 7:30, while simultaneously re-setting registration, volunteer coordination, infield, scoring, parking, course-checking, marshal-planning, EMS setup, etc. It’s a huge undertaking that goes off fairly smoothly, thanks to meticulous planning and an amazing team. Pre-ride ends in a blur, registration closes, and I anxiously await the arrival of a team from a new school that is travelling from afar to attend their first race.

The team arrives minutes before the middle-school-age race, and we work to get two of their middle-school students to staging. Several seasoned student-athletes from local teams take the new students under their wings and help get number plates set, helmets on and water bottles filled. I stand by and watch, amazed at the instant camaraderie.

How often these days do we see kids seek out responsibility, jump at the chance to help a student from a different school whom they have never met, carry out the task as if helping a best friend, then cheer for them when the bell goes off, as if a sibling had just started the race? Waves of riders start, and the day progresses, stories grow with each interaction. That silly can’t-help-but-smile thing resurfaces, despite best efforts to resist.

Stories and inspiration flood the senses. A student racing in honor of a coach who had recently passed; a first-time 6th grade racer crosses the line with a smile as pure as they come, “How was it, buddy?” “AMAZING, I loved it!” A teacher shows at the venue asking how to get his school involved; coaches wherever you look are mentoring, guiding, teaching and learning. Volunteers come and go from shifts, the old familiar smile spreading. Inspiration to do more, to work harder, to be better.

Somehow the rain mostly stays away. The last riders pass through the finishing arch to cheers from the crowd, and the marshal and scorers report that all riders are off-course. In true NICA fashion, the Ops folks make the break-down announcement, and “all hands on deck” converge to take down the infield. Students, parents, coaches, staff…everyone helps. Minutes later the festival/circus/travelling trailer of awesomeness is ready to be packed with all of the weekend’s gear neatly stacked outside.

Awards.

Medals go five-deep; leader’s jerseys are awarded and worn proudly. Pictures snap and high-fives abound. The crowd cheers and, most importantly, sticks around despite the drizzle. Students cheer for teammates and share race stories, seemingly unconcerned with where they placed. First or last, raced or didn’t, they are part of something larger. Something I can’t quite verbalize, but I can see it on their faces, feel it in the air.

This is more than a sport, more than a day in the woods, it’s a lifelong community brought together by the bicycle. This is New Jersey Interscholastic Mountain Biking.

Post.

When I pulled into my driveway early Sunday evening, it occurred to me that I hadn’t ridden all weekend, besides quick errands around the venue. I felt as if I had ridden from Morristown to Miami, both physically and mentally. My kids ran out to greet me before I could get out of the driver’s seat. I smiled, knowing they will have the opportunity to join a mountain-bike team in middle school, if they choose.

“Dad, let’s go for a bike ride!” Life is good.
 

mattybfat

The White Shadow
Team MTBNJ Halter's
#4
Your blogging is just fine, really like the in depth visualisation. Hope to come see one and try to get my girl in one of these. Tough with basically 5-6 days of softball. She does want to race though.
 

kdebello

Well-Known Member
#10
For everything that went on with Chester and the weather, the postponement, the temp on race day, it was a great race nonetheless.

Camp Edge. New venue. GREAT weather. I can't say enough about the effort that the NJ NICA crew put into each event. I'm not sure if it was the number of locations to watch the race, the fact that we stayed overnight, or maybe the much warmer temps than last week, but this race just seemed bigger to me.

I noticed that in just one year, the competition has definitely gotten better, more skilled, and faster. It was so new to most of the kids last year that they might not have known what to expect. This year, they seem like old pros, and the new kids now have someone their age to lean on and they seem more confident and better because of it.

My daughter doesn't usually say much when I ask her what she thinks of the course. After the preride, she had a big smile on her face and told me this is going to be a good race.
 

MadisonDan

Well-Known Member
Team MTBNJ Halter's
#11
For everything that went on with Chester and the weather, the postponement, the temp on race day, it was a great race nonetheless.

Camp Edge. New venue. GREAT weather. I can't say enough about the effort that the NJ NICA crew put into each event. I'm not sure if it was the number of locations to watch the race, the fact that we stayed overnight, or maybe the much warmer temps than last week, but this race just seemed bigger to me.

I noticed that in just one year, the competition has definitely gotten better, more skilled, and faster. It was so new to most of the kids last year that they might not have known what to expect. This year, they seem like old pros, and the new kids now have someone their age to lean on and they seem more confident and better because of it.

My daughter doesn't usually say much when I ask her what she thinks of the course. After the preride, she had a big smile on her face and told me this is going to be a good race.
good thing she won then, huh? long walk home....

kidding
 

ilnadi

Well-Known Member
#15
Back to back races after some personal matters requiring my attention, post race admin and prepping for #3. Blogging about it is lower priority.
I can testify Ken has been busy (even found time to send out training certs in the middle of all this). Thanks Ken, for everything you do, this is a great thing for these kids.

This is our first year (my son as a racer & and me as a coach). He had been mountain biking for a year and a half but was not sure about this whole racing (you know, the pressure!) and team thing. So we go to the first meeting, he listens to the spiel, on the way home announces he's joining and I have to become a coach.
We are both having a blast (despite getting frozen one week and getting sunburned the next). Being related to me, he will never win a race that involves speed but he is learning, having fun and not sitting in front of a screen.

Anyway he enjoyed the training rides but was not sure he wanted to race; that did not last long.
First race he did OK and according to him met his three goals (in order): have fun, finish the race, don't be last (this is left over from being in cross country as a 5th grader and finishing every race last :rolleyes:).
Second race he was already getting ambitious, the goals became: go fast, make the bonus lap, have fun. Apparently he met all three again.

Here is the after race picture, I think this represents the league just as much as race pictures (he's the one sitting down)

IMG_1469.JPG
 

KenS

JORBA: Director
JORBA.ORG
#16
I can testify Ken has been busy (even found time to send out training certs in the middle of all this). Thanks Ken, for everything you do, this is a great thing for these kids.

This is our first year (my son as a racer & and me as a coach). He had been mountain biking for a year and a half but was not sure about this whole racing (you know, the pressure!) and team thing. So we go to the first meeting, he listens to the spiel, on the way home announces he's joining and I have to become a coach.
We are both having a blast (despite getting frozen one week and getting sunburned the next). Being related to me, he will never win a race that involves speed but he is learning, having fun and not sitting in front of a screen.

Anyway he enjoyed the training rides but was not sure he wanted to race; that did not last long.
First race he did OK and according to him met his three goals (in order): have fun, finish the race, don't be last (this is left over from being in cross country as a 5th grader and finishing every race last :rolleyes:).
Second race he was already getting ambitious, the goals became: go fast, make the bonus lap, have fun. Apparently he met all three again.

Here is the after race picture, I think this represents the league just as much as race pictures (he's the one sitting down)

View attachment 67836
This is what motivates me. Thank you for sharing!