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Teens Find New Direction With Mountain Biking

Clay Overmeyer at a Start the Cycle session -Shawn Malone

Start the Cycle Session -Shawn Malone

Start the Cycle Session -Shawn Malone

Start the Cycle Session -Shawn Malone

Curtis Hewitt of Start the Cycle program

Start the Cycle introduces court-referred and at-risk teens to the sport of mountain biking as a positive alternative to drug and alcohol use and other unhealthy activities. 
Exhorting teens to "just say no" to drugs, alcohol, and other risky activities is easy; providing them with an appealing alternative is a challenge. Start the Cycle meets that challenge by offering a challenge. It introduces court-referred and at-risk teens to the exciting and physically demanding sport of mountain biking. Sponsored by Child and Family Services of the U.P., Inc., Start the Cycle is designed to enhance self-confidence, self-esteem, and team building skills. Program organizers hope to use mountain biking as an outlet and a positive form of self-discipline for its young participants. The goal is for participants to have improved grades and fewer incidents of inappropriate, self-destructive, or illegal behaviors.

The idea for the program was born, fittingly, on a mountain bike trail. Curtis Hewitt of Marquette, a financial planner, mentioned to his friend and fellow biker John Olesnavage the need for a program that would provide struggling youths in their community a positive activity with clear, achievable goals.

"John is a psychologist and I'm on a local school board," says Hewitt. "We see a lot of at-risk kids out there and we thought it would be a great idea to show (them) that they can start and successfully finish a project."

The 17 teens currently involved in Start the Cycle have been meeting weekly since February at Cycle Soleil, an indoor cycling studio in Marquette, in preparation for hitting the trails outdoors beginning in May. The winter workouts emphasized both physical and mental conditioning. Cycle Soleil owner Theresa Coates offered participants access to RealRyder bikes and led them through a vigorous workout, all at no charge.

"After hearing about the program from two of my clients (Hewitt and Olesnavage), I decided I wanted to be involved with the program from the ground up," says Coates. "The fact that Start the Cycle was brand new was exciting because we had the opportunity to take the program from an abstract concept to actually making it happen."

In addition to indoor workouts throughout the winter, teens participated in group discussions that emphasized the value of teamwork and achievement through effort,creating and maintaining healthy boundaries, establishing goals and planning to achieve those goals. Each teen also receives one-on-one mentoring from adult volunteers.

Coates describes Start the Cycle teens as driven and hardworking.

"The changes (in them) have been positive and measurable.(They) have gained confidence, endurance, and best of all, they seem to be developing trust and friendships," she says.

The conditioning, training, teamwork and mentoring will culminate August 10 when Start the Cycle members will compete in the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic, a rigorous race that begins in Negaunee and concludes in Marquette. Start the Cycle team members have the option of riding in the 10-mile Shore Rock, the 28-mile Soft Rock, or the 48-mile Hard Rock race. Teens who do not have their own bikes will be able to use a bike donated by community members or organizations. Start the Cycle members who finish their race will be given a bike to keep.

The young team members are expected to adhere to strict rules of conduct throughout the program. Those who do not follow the rules are asked to leave the program. These high expectations for personal responsibility, teamwork and community service are producing noticeable, positive changes in the teens.

Hewitt says, "Parents are telling us that for the first time their child is excited about something. We have also noticed that some of our students are starting to slim down."

Start the Cycle members also are learning the importance of giving back to the community that supports them.

"We want to teach our students to give back by helping the very organizations that have donated to us during their special fundraising events," says Hewitt. "For example, we will be helping the noon Kiwanis with their chicken dinner fundraiser, and we will be out on the trails helping the Noquemanon Trail Network build and maintain new and existing trails."

Clay Overmeyer, 16, of Skandia, joined Start the Cycle with modest expectations. "It seemed like it was fun," he said. "At first I thought it wasn't going to be so much, but when I got into it, I got serious about it."

Overmeyer says the program has gotten him into better shape physically, which in turn has been good for his emotional well-being. He's learned about the importance of teamwork, and is looking forward to competing in the Ore to Shore. In the bigger picture, Overmeyer says he has become a "dedicated" mountain biker and would like to turn his newfound passion into his future profession.

When asked what he would tell other teens who were thinking about joining Start the Cycle, Overmeyer was quick to respond. "(I'd) tell them that it really pays off; it's going to pay off in the end."

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