Start the Cycle

Members of Start the Cycle get ready to ride on icy ground. The group trains year-round, indoors and out, to get ready for the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic. Since the program began in 2012, all kids have finished the grueling race. (Photo courtesy of Laura MacDonald)

Members of Start the Cycle get ready to ride on icy ground. The group trains year-round, indoors and out, to get ready for the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic. Since the program began in 2012, all kids have finished the grueling race. (Photo courtesy of Laura MacDonald)

by Jim Pennell

There’s an old adage that says if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day but if you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life. A group of moun- tain bike mentors in Marquette have expanded that and believe if you give kids a mountain bike and teach them to ride it, they’ll do it for the rest of their lives.

Start the Cycle came together in 2012 when mountain biking friends John Olesnavage and Curtis Hewitt wanted to find a way to help kids find focus and direc- tion. They worked together with the Marquette County Juvenile Probation Court staff, local school counselors and the Marquette YMCA. With the help of six vol- unteers, they came up with a program that helps youth improve themselves emotional- ly and physically. Laura MacDonald was one of the original six volunteers.

“We are a bike group that trains at-risk kids for the Ore to Shore bike race. We pro- vide bikes, helmets, hydration packs and everything they need to ride in the race. After they finish the race they get to keep it all, but they earn it, and when they come back the next year everything has to be in good working condition,” MacDonald said.

“We train once a week with volunteer men- tors. We meet at the YMCA and then go out on local trails. We do train on the (Iron Ore) Heritage Trail for climbing, but basi- cally we’re on the mountain bike trails, because that’s where the Ore to Shore is. We ride for about two hours from 5 to 7 and after training we have a meal at the YMCA with food that a local restaurant has donat- ed.”

The rides are done with as close to a 1-to -ratio of mentors and kids as they can get. This year Start the Cycle has 18 young peo- ple between the ages of 11 and 18. It can be challenging working with that many kids at different ages.

“Getting everybody on bikes and getting everybody off bikes is quite a fiasco. It’s fun,” MacDonald continued. “For some kids they’re working on their time and get- ting faster. For some kids it’s just trying to keep them on their bikes for two hours. We get back after 7 and have our meal at the Y. When everyone is talking and eating it’s quite a thing to see.”

The program purchases equipment from the Quick Stop Bike Shop, and the store also helps teach kids maintenance and

repair of their bikes. The training seems to work. All of the participants in Start the Cycle so far have completed the 28-mile Ore to Shore race.

Jeremy Hinkson has been a volunteer mentor with Start the Cycle since the first year and has seen the positive changes it’s making in young people’s lives.

“I came on board the first year when it started,” Hinkson said. “I’m an avid moun- tain biker. I grew up on a bike and used to race BMX when I was a kid. I got into mountain biking later on in life and it’s a good tool. It promotes good health.”

The mentors help teach the kids life skills beyond the physical side of biking.

“We teach them to set goals for yourself. It’s healthy to do this and if you’re learning it’s OK to fail at certain things. Try to progress. It’s all part of life,” Hinkson con- tinued. “We have some second- and third- year kids and they’re starting to understand the process. Some of the first-year kids out of the gate it takes a little longer to adjust because they’re very headstrong. In their minds they have a certain way to do things and that’s how they do it. It’s tough for them to hear someone else tell them, ‘Hey, try it

this way it might be easier for you.’ We were all that way when we were 13 or 14 years old. We think we have a better way to do it than anyone else. After they see some of the other kids do things that we’ve taught them they realize if they just give it a chance there is an easier way. It’s about working smarter, not harder.”

The 1-to-1 ratio of mentors to youth has been successful and now some of the more experienced kids are stepping into the men- tor role as well.

“We try to match them up and rotate mentors so everybody gets a chance to train with everybody and see which different types of personalities mesh. Something new that we did this year was to interview candi- dates. Part of that was to ask them three things they wanted to get from the program. The response from the returning youths was, ‘We want to give back and teach the younger kids. Now that we’re in the second or third year of the program we want to show the younger kids what we’ve learned from you guys.’ You see kids now starting to take that mentorship role where before they never really had that mentality. It really is starting to work. Everyone has a great time. They’re all smiles when they’re done.”

The youths aren’t the only ones who gain something from the program. The volun- teers enjoy the rides and the time spent mentoring as well.

“It’s a very close knit group of people we work with,” Hinkson said. “We talk throughout the week and meet for

fundraisers. Sometimes the adults go for rides on weekends or weeknights. We have about 18 to 20 mentors and as the summer gets going we’ll have 20 to 25. You learn that the kids are just an extension of you.”

Start the Cycle is funded by donations, local grants and its annual Rock and Roll Dance Party fundraising event. For more information on donating time or resources, contact Christina Bennett at the Marquette YMCA at 227-9622.

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