Launching the first high school cycling team in Richmond was a tough task. Doing such out of a school like Armstrong High, was seemingly to most anyone, impossible. The first day of hanging recruitment posters around the school, a faculty member approached me and Matt, read the poster, and quipped “you may get one or two kids at the meeting…good luck.”
Six weeks later, the Principal at Armstrong High pulled me aside to explain that the cycling team had garnered the most interest and excitement than any other club/sport/activity since her time at the school. ”How do we get more students on the team?” she asked. ”We don’t,” I said. My response startled her. I continued: “I want to build a legacy at this school—one that is hinged on a prestigious program— one that the students are proud of— and this can’t be done with an abundance of half-hearted students…It can only be created by a few, who become the beacons of example to many.” I admit, I knew this question was coming, and so my response was fairly polished. After five years of working with the exact demographic of student that fills the halls of Armstrong High, and knowing just how physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding cycling is, this wasn’t my first rodeo to produce a successful campaign in our first year. Below is a photo timeline of how Armstrong Cycling came to be a team, and a snapshot of success in the team’s first year.
First Practice February 6th: Weeding out those who don’t want to work. It’s hard to select team members for a cycling team, when several have never ridden a mountain bike. Cycling is easy to teach to those willing to work hard.
First Week on the bikes February 18th:
Our solution to one of the snowiest winters in Richmond history, March 4th:
Men’s Team Camp in Harpers Ferry, March 8th: Trying to get a group of Armstrong boys to gel.
The week of practices that showed me we had three boys capable of racing at the Varsity level. They were shocked (and scared) to hear the news only days out from their first race, March 27th:
Day of first race in Richmond— now down to 7 team members. We’d lose another two members as we weren’t willing to compromise our rules, April 1st:
Race #2, Varsity member, Antonio Goode shows he’s got what it takes to compete at a high level— cracking the top 20 (18th place) in Roanoke.
Race #3, Charlottesville—Sandwiched during Spring Break, and causing us to lose some systematic controls due to a week out of school, the Armstrong Team came unraveled, with poor results and attitudes. Five members now remain on the team, April 22nd:
April 28th, this photo and two page story on the revolutionary Armstrong Cycling Team makes the front page of the Richmond Times Dispatch:
Coaching from Matt Crane and Julie Hunter helps The Armstrong JV girls continue to improve and get more comfortable off-road and on technical singletrack, May 8th:
Race #4, Varsity rider, Antonio Goode, has another breakthrough race, putting him in the elite class of the top 15 in Harrisonburg, May 10th:
After a top 15 two days before, Antonio sets his focus on cracking the top 10 at the State Championships in St. George, May 12th. It’s hard to believe that the toughest kid at Armstrong High is 5’9” and weighs 135lbs:
Race #5, State Championships in St. George— the JV girls put in their best race yet on an extremely treacherous course— caked in mud, their spirits and effort remained high. The boys had a rough day— having never ridden in thick mud, their new found speed didn’t mix well with bike control and mechanical problems. Both finished.
Needless to say, the past four months have gone by in a blink. We had students who’d never dedicated to anything in their life, put in lung-burning, leg-screaming, hard work, in poor conditions; over rocks, roots, and mud; scrapping knees, bruising hips— showing up each week on their own accord. Some academic grades improved— some didn’t improve. Some of our students got suspended from school. All but one had discipline issues at some point during the semester. None of this truly matters when the real task at hand is re-engineering character traits (especially with teenagers)— which starts with finding something..anything..anyone..a purpose that motivates a person to show up and put forth effort. We reached them— and helped them accomplish feats they didn’t think were possible. For the five members that kept themselves on the team, they, for the first time, felt what true commitment is…to team, to self, to coach. We now have a base to build from…