2011 NICA award banquet

High school mountain bikers honored at NICA banquet

Muhammad Ali, Wilma Rudolph, Lance Armstrong, Magic Johnson. What do they all have in common? They’re all well-known sports heroes. They are more than just champions in their respective sports. They have all used their fame to give back, to inspire and encourage, and to call attention to that which deserves attention from us all. They have all achieved something greater than athletic success, they have all done something to make the world a fairer, healthier, safer place.

Not every sports hero is famous. Not every sports hero is an athlete. Not every sports hero is memorialized in bronze, or has a street named for them. There are less-known sports heroes all around us. They do their part to give back, to inspire and encourage, and call attention. These less-known heroes often do this on their own time, and often on their own dime. Their efforts usually go unacknowledged.

Last Saturday night was an exception. The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) held its first annual awards banquet at Clif Bar HQ in Emeryville to honor 17 of its own.

NICA founder Matt Fritzinger speaks at the 2011 award banquet in Emeryville, California.

Among the attendees were NICA founder and executive director Matt Fritzinger, Specialized founder Mike Sinyard, mountain bike pioneer Joe Breeze, and trials champion Hans “No Way” Rey. Gary Fisher would have been there too, but he had a cold. This event was a big deal! My girlfriend, photographer Aimee Ivanoff, and I were invited to attend to learn what NICA is all about, what it is working to accomplish, and who these amazing award recipients are.

NICA is a non-profit, grassroots organization working to make mountain biking an option for every high school athlete. Not every athletic teenager wants to try out for the baseball team (I never could hit the ball!). Some dream of flying up and down mountain trails to earn a varsity letter. 6 regional leagues in 5 states make that dream a reality for a growing number of young racers, and NICA is taking steps to realize this dream for kids coast-to-coast by 2020. Race organizers, coaches, volunteers, league founders, and athletes are united to build a solid foundation for its future. I broke bread with a few of these people at Clif on Saturday. I got to hear some of their stories, and see them acknowledged for being sports heroes.

Lindsay Dye and Hans Rey at NICA 2011 award banquet
High school mountain bike racer Lindsay Dye with the legendary Hans “No Way” Rey at the 2011 NICA banquet. Lindsay raced independently but trained with Boulder High School’s team.

One of the two ‘Trek All Star Athlete Awards’ went to Lindsay Dye. She came with her parents from Broomfield, Colorado to accept her award. Aimee and I were seated next to them at dinner. When Lindsay was called on stage to receive her award, her acceptance speech was inspiring. She spoke eloquently about how her success in mountain bike racing was an empowering force that carried over into other aspects of her young life. She expressed sincere gratitude to the many people, especially her parents, who made her opportunity to race possible. What a proud moment for mom and dad! There is no crystal ball, but my guess is Lindsay will be a successful adult in whatever path she chooses…NICA played a deliberate part in that, and what she learned on the bike is what NICA is all about.

The ‘Fort Lewis College Distinguished Alumni Award’ went to Emma Worldpeace. Racing mountain bikes in high school sowed the seeds of leadership and community in her, and she is now giving back to her sport by recruiting and encouraging new racers. Her success goes well beyond the winner’s podium. She was honored for her efforts to bring her success to others.

There were many other well-deserved awards, and many other sincere acceptance speeches that night. It was an energizing experience for me, and I went home with a big smile. I hope I get to go next year! NICA is growing fast, and there is a need for funding and volunteers from all walks of life. If this post inspires you, if you want to give back, if you think you have what it takes to be a less-known sports hero, contact NICA at www.nationalmtb.org.

NICA is the National Governing Body for grades 9-12 interscholastic mountain biking. NICA was established 2009 with generous funding from the national founding sponsor, The aim of NICA is to foster the development of high quality competitive cross-country mountain biking programming for High School aged athletes. NICA provides leadership, governance and program support to promote the development of interscholastic Mountain Biking Leagues throughout the United States. NICA League exists by virtue of generous donors and sponsors including the founding national sponsor, Specialized Bicycle Components, as well as SRAM, Trek Bicycles, Easton Foundations, Clif Bar and Co., Fox Racing Shox, GU Sports, NCNCA, Primal Wear, Shimano, Mellow Johnny’s, CamelBak, Dirt Rag, Feedback Sports and Mountain Bike Action.

Photos by Aimee Ivanoff. Thank you to David aka “Cold Iron” for this dispatch from the East Bay.

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