I have SO much to say about NICA and the NICA Coaches Conference that I spent last week attending—and speaking at (!)—in Bentonville, Arkansas. Seriously, I have pages filled with notes for articles and ideas, because the entire week was just this massive outpouring of inspiration. NICA, for those unfamiliar, is the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. In 22 states (and growing every year), NICA gets over 17,000 kids riding mountain bikes, competing on local or school teams. It’s honestly one of the coolest initiatives I’ve ever seen. New Jersey’s league was kind enough to host me last year when they were first getting off the ground, and I held a girl’s ride at one of their races—I couldn’t believe how many girls came out and how excited they were to get on bikes.
So when NICA’s VP asked me to come and participate in the GRiT (Girls Riding Together) initiative launch and panel discussion to talk about Shred Girls and my takes on how we can get more girls riding, I was so honored… And getting a bunch of middle-age male coaches talking about how to talk to the kids on their teams about saddle sores was just icing on the cake! (Hey, it is my area of expertise, after all.)
Bentonville itself is an amazing place for an MTB-focused conference: That town is BIKE CRAZY. Seriously, there are miles and miles of insane, beautiful singletrack (for every rider skill level) within a 5 to 10 minute ride from the adorable downtown. There are at least 5 coffeeshops and 5 bars/breweries in the small downtown, plus a bunch of funky, artsy boutiques that I kept sneaking out to check out during breaks between sessions. It’s legit one of the coolest towns I’ve been in, and a total hidden gem in terms of mountain biking in the US, though it really is growing in popularity.
The people in town were also insanely friendly and polite. At every single stop sign I rode up to, I was waved through by even the biggest of the pickup trucks, I had kids and parents smiling and waving every other block, and even the people working at chains were super pleasant. (After a really sweaty run, I went into Panera just to get a drink to cool down, and the woman working wouldn’t take my money, just gave me the cup. It’s a small thing, but it made my day.)
And OK, back to NICA. The people involved in all the state leagues just blew me away. I think what really floored me, as someone who’s seen the jaded side of the outdoors industry, was seeing just how passionate all of the coaches and league directors are.
I think the future is SO bright for this organization, and the fact that they’ve blossomed this much in just under 10 years shows that there really is a need for this in schools—I know I wish I had been exposed to MTB when I was in middle school! And, of course, it’s exciting that their values and where they’re going with initiatives like GRiT that are designed to get #moregirlsonbikes aligns so well with Shred Girls. Seeing the different ways that the leagues are bringing girls in and making them feel welcome was so heartwarming, and I’m so stoked that I’ll be able to help with that in whatever way that I can, so expect a whole lot more from me on the NICA front in the coming year!
Find out more about NICA here, and stay tuned for more!