Absent from Collegiate’s sports credit options this spring was Outdoor Collegiate, a well-loved season of rock climbing, rock hopping, trail running, hiking, canoeing, and more outdoor sports. What took its place?
Upper School history teacher Brad Cooke, leader of the Outdoor program, is now also head coach of our new mountain biking team. Mountain biking involves five days per week of practice and falls under the realm of athletics, unlike Outdoor Collegiate, because the team goes to weight room and will compete in 8-12 mile races with the Virginia High School Mountain Biking League.
The idea of starting a mountain biking team has been on Cooke’s radar for three years now. “Once we discovered that there was a really active… high school league, we started to try to get into it,” he says, stating that the team followed the lead of some of our rival schools like St. Christopher’s, Trinity, and Woodberry, who already have established biking programs.
With fifteen students on the team, as well as Cooke and Coach Bill Rider, finding space for everyone was a concern. “Coach Rider and I spent probably two weeks staring at the inside of a trailer, trying to figure out how to fit 17 bikes inside of it,” Cooke recalls, but adds that now the students can load and unload their bike trailer in an impressive ten minutes.
The team takes advantage of Richmond’s local public trail systems at Forest Hill Park, Pocahontas State Park, and Powhite park, as well as Collegiate’s own Robins campus. They also have a partnership with Endorphin Fitness, which has a room full of training bikes, so when it’s too rainy outside to ride, the team can still get a workout.
Biking is similar to running in that it involves constant, strenuous cardio that can cause a release of endorphins, making athletes feel a “runner’s high” during or after their practice. Claire Tate (‘16) says that the key is to “face the fact that you’ll fall and your legs will hurt but somehow, despite the scrapes and bruises, it’s the best part of my day.” After practices, “usually there’s a lot of joking around, horsing around as [they] load the trailer… at the end of every day, they’re exhausted, and super excited,” notes Cooke.
Looking forward, the team is excited to compete in junior varsity and varsity races, but because of space constraints, and because their practices are held in the middle of the woods with only two coaches to watch over everyone, the mountain biking team has limited room to expand in terms of numbers. The lucky students who are biking this season, however, seem to be loving it so far, and range from very experienced to completely new to the sport. “I like how unique it is, and how everyone on the team shares a very similar passion,” says team captain Rick O’Shea (‘16). According to Cooke, one of the best things about mountain biking is that it creates “skills that [people] can take forever,” because people of all ages can be seen out biking at various levels. As Tate puts it, “it’s only good vibes out there in the woods.”
Be sure to wish the team luck in their first race this Saturday, April 9, in Charlottesville.