Riders of all Abilities Race in High School Cycling LeagueNov 01, 2021 02:27PM ● By Greg James
By Greg James | [email protected]
Elevate is the program in the Utah High School Cycling League for special needs students. In its eight years of existence, they have helped several student athletes participate just like every other rider in the program.
“We wanted to bring more inclusivity into this league,” league director Dallen Atack said. “We wanted to make it available to special needs athletes.”
This season the league has had about a dozen special needs student athletes participate. They are each members of individual teams across the state. They include riders that are legally blind, deaf, autistic, or missing limbs.
These riders participate just like the rest of the members of the team. In some cases, they may race a small loop near the start finish line, but other kids race a normal lap, and spectators would never know the difference.
“It is based on the capacity of the team. If they have the ability to work with these kids we can get them to practice and the races,” Atack said.
Each participant can be individually supervised as needed.
“We had an athlete that was deaf and rode a little slower so we had a parent ride behind her so that the oncoming racers knew to steer around her,” Atack said. “Another was legally blind. A coach rode in front of him to keep him safe. He could not see in front of him very well, but he was fast and usually had a small tumble during a race, but we made sure he stayed safe.”
The league provided training for its coaches with the National Ability Center in Park City. The NAC draws from decades of experience working with people of all abilities, using special equipment as necessary and techniques and teaching methods within its 1900 volunteers.
“They helped us learn to work with the athletes and taught coaches skills for each individual athlete,” Atack said. “They have also helped acquire bikes with special equipment as needed.”
The league has 6,300 participants this season. They raced in four regions across the state and are scheduled to hold the state finals Oct. 28-29 in St. George.
“Our league grew more than we expected this season. In some of our race venues we are bursting at the seams. We also had a tough weather year with several lightning delays and rain. We will be headed to St George for the finals with approximately 2100 riders who have qualified,” Atack said.
The league culture is different than most people of experienced.
“Mountain bike culture is different than a lot of the other sporting cultures. Everyone helps each other. They are racing for a team, but also for themselves. The only way to get better is for you to get better. Everyone races, no one rides the bench,” Atack said.
The riders race in divisions of skill and must pass levels of ability to advance.
“These elevate riders are part of the team. It is a really neat program. We have had lots of fun with it,” Atack said.
The league begins its season in July. Its teams practice two or three times a week and welcome riders of all abilities.