By Rachel Anders with Mark Deterline –
Four years ago around this time I finished my first ever mountain bike race, the high school race at Sherwood Hills. I remember being at the start line, excited and nervous and terrified, wondering if it was too late to drop out. I remember recognizing a girl I hadn’t seen since the 3rd grade, Kylee Shaffer, who greeted me like no time had passed. “This is gonna be SO fun!”
I don’t think I considered that first race “fun” until it ended. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and I bonked so hard after the first lap that I had to walk my bike the last mile just to finish. But none of that mattered afterward; the line was cast and I was hooked.
The next four years I fell more and more in love with mountain biking, and so did a couple thousand other high schoolers. I was on the Cottonwood-Hillcrest-Olympus team my first two years, and my coaches Vic Ream and Bart Gillespie really encouraged me to ride as much as possible. Later it was the never-ending support from Drew and Lucy Jordan on Salt Lake Composite. In tenth grade I joined Summit Bike Club and soon, where before I’d only ride once or twice a summer, now I was riding almost every day.
By my junior year, I realized my circle of friends was a divided one, with mountain bikers on one side, and a few randoms on the other. I noticed my adjectives were now limited to either “rad” or “gnarly”, and I learned to love those awful tan-lines. But most of all, I found a new confidence throughout high school knowing that I had this unique skill that not many others had. I had an amazing sport that I knew I’d keep for life.
Meanwhile the Utah League grew from 300 to 1100 racers in four years, making it the largest league in the nation. I grew, too, in those four years — into a stronger person, both mentally and physically.
I’ve biked through heat, rain and snow, pedaled up peaks and flown back down them. I’ve crashed and bled and been helped back up, and I’ve watched others do the same. At almost every high school race there is some story of a student stopping during their own race to help out a fallen rider. Racing taught me the value of competition and hard work; riding taught me the love of a community and the outdoors.
At the St. George banquet last fall marking the end of my time with the Utah League, I considered avoiding the League’s founder Lori Harward at all costs, because I knew I’d be a sobbing wreck. When I finally did find Lori alone for a few seconds, I hugged her and choked out a thank you that was probably indiscernible. So here it is again Lori, from me and 2000+ high schoolers: thanks for changing lives.