NICA’s 2019 Season Opener: A Refreshing Perspective

-by Norm Zurawski´╗┐

Normally I wouldn’t be writing about a NICA race on the MTBNJ blog, but this past weekend I had a chance to go down to south Jersey and take in the 2019 season opener of the NICA New Jersey season. For those of you who don’t know what NICA is, I will refer to the link here for more information. I’m finding that some people know more than you can imagine about NICA, yet some people barely know it exists. Click the above link for more info.

For those of you who want the TL;DR summary: It’s a kid’s bike league. If you have kids, you should sign up.

Saturday we took the trek down to Camden Community College in the afternoon to get a pre-ride in with Zac and some of his teammates. We were also joined by Level 3 (the highest) coach Pete, who I know from the biking community and who helps run the Somerset Hills Veloraptors (Facebook page here, please join if you have any interest in the team/league).

In all, we had anywhere from 1-5 kids on the group depending on which of the 4 laps you looked at. Zac liked it, but as his teammates showed up and joined, he liked it more and more. In all, we rode for over 1.5 hours and got a very good look at the course they would be racing on the next day.

Zac & D wrap-up the day on bikes.

As an added surprise, we caught a glimpse of the speedy Shannon doing loops of the course in her team kit, which she wears on non-NICA race days. In talking with her mom, she’s pretty stoked to be part of MTBNJ and of course, we’re more than happy to have her wearing the colors every chance she gets.

Shannon in team colors on the pre-ride day, all smiles.

After the pre-ride and a quick tent area setup, the team went their separate ways briefly before regrouping for dinner that night. One thing I’m finding is that with these teams comes a pretty strong sense of camaraderie which was both enjoyable and very welcoming. I hadn’t met most of the people before and they were all happy to have more people in the mix.

Sunday rolled around, and with it, a cacophony of bikes, people, and logistics. As the morning rolled on it was obvious that a lot goes into one of these events, which was shaping up to be pretty impressive.

Bikes as far as the eye can see.

Part of making sure this whole “NICA New Jersey” thing not only gets off the ground, but stays in the air, is having people and organizations that keep things moving. Among many others, Ben, below left, donates countless hours coaching NICA kids and has moved on to a national-level involvement in the NICA org. Next to him are Fred and Robin, 2 of the coaches of the Princeton Progressions, the team that Ben helped start. All 3 are former MTBNJ riders who have moved on to focus their energies in this direction.

Ben, Fred, and Robin, all integral pieces of the NICA puzzle.

Jeremy following the rules in pit row.

Gotta walk before you can run ride.

Before the races start there is a general team meeting, which you can see the Veloraptors exiting from below. From left to right is Sammy walking with Coach Eric, then Zac & Dominique, followed by Pete and his son Beck who seems to be having trouble going the right direction, a problem that would be solved shortly after when the race started and he went in the right direction at a rapid pace.

The Veloraptors head back to the team tent after the pre-race talk.

The Atlantic crew gets ready to spectate before the first race by setting up camp at one of the key spots in the course. Much action was had here, and the site of Zac’s crash when a T2 rider came into the turn too hot and hit the deck, only to have Zac follow suit. Both racers were fine, and they ended up making 2 of the 5 podium spots on the day.

Just sitting here on this log, watching the world go by.

The 9:30 races go off, and Veloraptor Ian is shot out of a cannon when the whistle blows. He is followed by Dylan, as they lead out the biggest field of the day. Ian would end up 6th and Dylan 7th when all was said & done.

Ian & Dylan set the pace after the whistle blows.

I set up at the end of the course, just up the hill from the log where the Atlantic crew was camped out. The first Veloraptor through was Zac, who was sitting in 4th at the moment, behind T2 rider Andrew who, as mentioned, would crash about 8 seconds after this picture was taken. Here we see Zac getting a little sideways air off the jump but his focus is forward, where it should be.

T2 rider Andrew leads Zac through the jump at the end of lap 1.
Dylan follows shortly after.
Beck rounds out the top 10 on lap 1, which is where he would finish on the day.

Dave is an old fart, just like yours truly. As we age and get slower and slower every year, we live more and more vicariously through these kids that just seem to get faster by the day. Now and again, the enthusiasm of the kids gets to us and we just have to let it fly. Here is Dave in action, letting loose on the jump as he sweeps one of the early races.

Dave catches some air.

Meanwhile, back in pit row…

This is as much action as the police should see on any given NICA race day.

Next up were all the girl’s races, which was impressive in some of the numbers that were present. MTBNJ team rider Kristine is a big proponent of girls riding bikes, kids riding bikes, adults riding bikes, and men riding bikes. Along with representing MTBNJ in the pro women’s class, she donates a ton of time to the NICA cause as well. Here she is below, getting ready to see the next set of races going off.

Always full of smiles, MTBNJ team rider Kristine

I always enjoy seeing the kids wearing MTBNJ socks at the races. On the left is Amanda, sporting the correct set of matching socks, while on the right we see Maeve with just one. She later explained that the right sock was her peeps in celebration of coming Easter. Both girls won these socks at the MTBNJ short track race, which was free to all student racers.

Three of four isn’t so bad.

MTBNJ Team rider Shannon lines up for the Varsity girls race.

All smiles before the carnage begins.

One sock Maeve rolls through with two-socks Amanda behind her, properly protecting her feet with a matching pair. Apparently 1 was greater than 2 today as Maeve held off Amanda and took 2nd place in her Freshman girls race.

Maeve and Amanda both looking to the side, at what, I have no idea.

Shannon rips through a turn near the start/finish.

Her number plate predicted her finish, as it turns out.

Mike the Chili Guy asked me to take a picture of one of his 6th grade racers Kate, who was doing her first MTB race ever. Kate got a ton of support from her team as she rolled through.

Kate rolls through the start/finish area.

Veloraptor Sammy at the end of her race, which saw her win the JV girls class. She is all smiles now (though not necessarily before the race).

That’s a happy Veloraptor right there.

Shannon waits with sister Amanda after the race. Even though they live in the same house, Shannon races with the Don Bosco Prep team while Amanda is with Highlands Composite.

Amanda & Shannon after their mid-morning races.

Once the race day is done, everyone at the venue gathers for the awards ceremony. But first, a team picture. From left to right are Zac (yes he is merely 13 years old), Coach Dominique, Beck, Nick, Coach Pete, Sammy, Dylan, Cameron, and Tobey. Missing here are Ian, Will, Tristan, & Peter as well as coach Steve.

The cast of characters that were still here when we remembered to take a team picture.

Zac’s 2nd place podium.

Even in 2nd, he’s a tall one.

Sammy gets the leader jersey with her win today.

Sammy representing not only with the race but also with the socks.

Tobey took 3rd in his Freshman boys race.

Tobey was 1 of 4 Veloraptors with a medal on the day.

Trystan laughing it up as he takes his 4th place medal.

Waiting for the rest of the podium to arrive.

Shannon ended up 2nd overall to the speedy Nina.

Just as her number plate portended.

In the end, this crew stayed in force through the day. The neon green kits are easy to see from anywhere in the venue.

In all, I really enjoyed everything about the day. This was so much the case that just 3 days later I have now become a Level 1 coach to help move things forward. Dominique and I will also likely move forward in trying to get our Level 2 certification as well, which will allow us to get even more involved.

Here is 1 challenge I would put to you, if you’re still reading. Go back up to the top and scroll down through the images down the page. What you will see is a collection of happy adults, happy kids, and often motivated kids. From start to finish the day is filled with people enjoying themselves, both old and young. The one exception is the picture with Jeremy walking his bike. He’s not smiling because he would much rather be riding, like most of us at the venue on Sunday.

If you are not already, I highly suggest getting involved in the scene. If you are reading this, it’s very likely you know me. Feel free to reach out to see how you can get involved in some way. If you have kids in 6th grade or older, it’s never too late to get them involved in the NICA movement.

We’ll see you on April 27th & 28th when the NICA season resumes at Camp Edge for race #2 (of 5).