By Sal Ruibal
The older folks out there may remember a 1985 movie, Teen Wolf, starring Michael J. Fox as a dorky high school misfit and failed athlete who is transformed by an ancient family curse and becomes a rad werewolf super-basketball player who takes his team to the championship game and bla-bla-bla, you know the story.
Not exactly Apocalypse Now, but the failed high-school sports fantasy part is something a lot of us had to deal with.
I was cursed to become the worst wrestler in the history of Greeley Central High School, but I stuck it out until senior year for two reasons: I couldn’t wrestle junior varsity as a senior and I started riding a road bike.
I put myself through all that humiliation – not to mention physical pain – because way back in fifth grade I actually won a wrestling match. Having the ref raise my arm in triumph was like mainlining heroin. I was King of the World for the next two weeks and spent the next six years trying to do it again.
But it wasn’t until I started riding a bike for long distances did I gain a sense of my physical strength and athletic ability. I first rode a 20” Schwinn Sting-Ray around the block in elementary school and my Grandmother Maria later bought me a nice 24-inch Schwinn cruiser that I could ride for miles through the Colorado High Plains around Greeley.
By junior year I had moved up to a used Italia 10-speed that I bought for $20 from a Colorado State College student who was leaving town. I rode that bike a lot and loved the ability to ride to my after-school newspaper job and the college campus, checking out the nascent hippie scene.
Unlike the Teen Wolf and his hoops skills, however, there was no high school cycling team to showcase my skills, transforming my longhaired, bell-bottomed self into a star, or even a domestique. I didn’t even know what a domestique was and there certainly weren’t any mountain bikes in 1970.
But in 2012, high school kids who love to ride mountain bikes have the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. NICA is spreading around the nation, creating state and regional leagues with boys and girls teams. Students not only race, but also determine the direction and organization of their teams. In 1970, I couldn’t even determine how close my hair could get to my eyebrows.
Back then, there were other guys and probably some girls who would have loved to have a bike team. The rolling hills around Greeley are great for training and the big mountains are just a few hours away by bike.
It would have been cool to have GCHS bike jerseys and compete in races against the kids in Loveland and Boulder and Fort Collins. And maybe we would have had a shot at earning a varsity letter jacket, black and orange with a big ‘G’ on it.
Not many of the high school football and basketball players from 40 years ago are still playing on a competitive level, but I’ll bet that some of them are riding bikes and feeling that same thrill that I felt back in 1970. Cycling is a life sport and at just 18 months away from turning 60, I feel that I can continue to ride trails and race for many more years. I know it’s possible because I see many men and women 60 and older competing at mountain bike races and riding gran fondos.
If you are a high school kid who likes to ride mountain bikes (or the parent of one) check out NICA (nationalmtb.org). You’ll learn about a lot more than racing because NICA requires that you also participate in the organization and presentation of races and training. You can design your team jerseys and no one gets cut if they put in the training hours and participate in the required team activities.
And who knows, you might even make it into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, like that failed wrestler who only wanted to raise his arm in victory one more time.