Sam Schultz on Starting the Montana NICA League
In the last few years, I have been putting a lot of off-the-bike effort into getting a National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) League started for the high school and middle school kids in my home state of Montana. It’s been a big project, it has been daunting at times, but luckily NICA has an incredible support structure to help get new leagues up and running, and I have connected with an amazing team of core volunteers throughout the state who’ve made this project super fun. Last year was our first season and we came out of the gates as the largest first-year NICA league with over 300 young Montana rippers taking part in the program!
There wasn’t much of a teenage riding scene in Montana when I was growing up. Luckily, I had incredibly supportive parents, a couple of great friends who were equally obsessed with racing and riding, a cool local bike club, and a support system that didn’t blink an eye at the prospect of driving 6 or 7 hours to compete at regional races with a small handful of other kids. NICA first came squarely onto my radar at the Sea Otter Classic during the premiere of the documentary, Singletrack High, back in 2013. At that time, I was a full-time professional cross-country racer who had taken the sport to the extreme. I was the current US National Champion and had competed in the Olympics the year before. My initial reaction upon learning about NICA’s high school and middle school programs was the same as many adults when they first learn about it-- “How sweet it would have been to have a bike team at my school, regular practices with my friends, and a statewide race series with an amazing community of families camping out and shredding on bikes together… “
Fast forward to last fall, and our inaugural Montana NICA season. I remember holding the starting horn to the air, with more pre-race butterflies in my stomach than if I was racing myself, giving the final countdown before a quick blast of the horn. Watching category after category of young rippers tearing down the track was so much more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. The raw emotion of kids overcoming their fears on the starting line was inspiring and seeing the teams, coaches, and parents hit their stride, building a thriving community of young Montana riders throughout the season was amazing.
Racing bikes for me while growing up has always been a family affair, spending many a weekend loading up into the family van and driving to races across the country. With the recruitment of my Dad as Race Operations, my Mom as Volunteer Coordinator, and my brother as Head Coach of the Missoula team, this project has been no different.