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Mountain biking

Pedal pushers

Dublin School mountain bike racing team teaches students to push themselves to their mental and physical limits

  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.
  • Dublin School is one of a handful of New Hampshire schools that fields a mountain biking team.

Mountain bike racing requires endurance, speed, mental acuity, mechanical aptitude and above all else, the will to finish the race. Dublin School students have the unique opportunity to gain all those attributes and more; the school is one of a handful in the state that fields a mountain bike racing team. The team was founded in 2011 by then-faculty member Bill Farrell as part of a push for endurance athletics.

Farrell, who had previously pioneered a similar team at Kimball Union Academy, had no trouble pitching it at Dublin School. The rolling, hilly campus lends itself brilliantly to the sport; at home meets, bikers race on trails that weave in and out of the woods behind the school’s lower fields, culminating in what some racers have called a “soul-crushing” final climb.

“I love the hills. Hills are where I pass people,” senior Brendan Palmer said after a recent race. Palmer joined the team in his sophomore year without ever having biked competitively; he said that he has grown a lot as a person and competitor during the past three years on the team.

“If you had looked at me freshman year,” Palmer said, “I would have hated this race. I would have been walking that final hill. I would have had a miserable time. But now I can do this race, go out and come in third.” A mountain bike race is typically around 2.5-3 miles long, with racers completing 2-4 laps of the course, depending on which division (A, B or C) they ride in. Palmer had his best career finish that October day, a third-place finish that his coach, Jesse Jackson, said would never have been possible when Palmer first joined the team.

“At the beginning,” Jackson said, “he was kind of one of those guys who was like ‘Eh, I don’t really know if I like mountain biking,’ and he was sort of taking his time most of the races, but now he really has taken it upon himself to push himself. Just seeing the growth of those guys from where the program was at the beginning, where it was like ‘Let’s all just get on a bike and hopefully we don’t kill ourselves out on the trail,’ to now – we’re racing. They’re actually thinking like racers as opposed to riders.”

Jackson, who is an academic skills tutor, had never coached competitive mountain biking before coming to Dublin School; he took over the duties this year after Farrell was forced to retire due to a medical condition. As a longtime mountain biking enthusiast, Jackson would probably be out there on those early-evening rides whether there was a team or not.

“Just going for a ride every day is good,” Jackson said, “because I’ve been in class all day, they’ve been in class all day, but at the end of the day, we just meet at the bike shed up there and just take off for a ride into New England autumn.”

Jason Boyle, a physics and chemistry teacher who is an assistant mountain biking coach, said he was drawn to biking due to the “phenomenally technical” nature of the sport. He’s grown to appreciate the time spent on those long rides, which give the coaches and athletes a lot of time to bond.

“You get a lot of one-on-one time with students,” Boyle said. “You’re either waiting for someone or fixing a flat or something, and there’s a lot of really dynamic interpersonal stuff. It gives you a chance to interact with students in a much more fun way and keep the conversation educational It’s kind of a natural flow. There’s a conversation, there’s an attitude, there’s a lot of things that go along with being a productive person that can be taught through mountain biking.”

While both coaches agreed that the team draws a more academically-minded group of student-athletes than more traditional sports, it’s still safe to say that the lessons learned while practicing and competing help the racers achieve more across the board in their studies. Palmer told us the experience has helped him immensely.

“There’s so much challenge within mountain biking,” Palmer said, “that it affects all other spheres of education because it teaches you to push yourself. Even when there’s no goal in mind other than ‘finish,’ it gives you that motivation. So when you’re taking a test, it’s like ‘this problem and then this problem and then the next problem.’ It gives you that confidence of just pushing forward.”

That individual drive, so important for a bike racers, is one of the unique aspects of what is technically a team sport. The better a racer’s individual time, the more it helps the team, to be sure, but a rider who finishes with a slow time doesn’t necessarily penalize his or her teammates. Myles Spencer, a Dublin School junior, competed in the C division last year; after a slew of top finishes, he earned the chance to move up to the B division, which he did this season.

“We’re still a team and we practice together,” Fisher said, “but in the race, we’re singular. It’s kind of the best of both, because you get to be competitive and push yourself and do it by yourself, you don’t have to wait for anyone holding you back, but then you still get to the team part of it.”

Fisher said that joining the team gave him a chance to meet a lot of new people that he might not normally have hung out with at school. So, too, did sophomore Lillian Campbell, who joined this year as one of two girls on the team. At first, Campbell, who has always enjoyed mountain biking but only got seriously into it this summer, was skeptical about joining the team.

“I was always scared to do it, but then I just kind of decided ‘What the heck? Screw it, you need to be braver than this. It’s kind of a weird sport. When I tell people I do it, they give me some weird looks. A lot of people are like ‘Come on. You’re doing mountain biking?’ But it challenges me, and it doesn’t really matter if people understand it or not.”

As someone new to competitive biking, Campbell may be on the opposite end of the spectrum from racers like Fisher, but she finds the same pleasure in racing as a top finisher would.

“I think the cool thing about is that even though there’s a team and it’s fun to push yourselves against each other and really bring out the best in each other,” Campbell said, “it’s also nice that you’re not – unlike other team sports – you’re not really relying on each other. If I don’t do really well, I’m not blamed because it’s just me. As a group, we can practice together but it’s also very free. We don’t have to play in a rectangle, you know? Just go ride and it’s really fun.”

That kind of attitude runs throughout the Dublin School team, and it’s something that Jackson and Boyle encourage on and off the course.

“We put sportsmanship and other things like that ahead of competitiveness,” Boyle said. “Kids that are coming in last are having as much fun as kids coming in first, and we all laugh about it and we don’t try to put undue pressure where it doesn’t belong. We’ve got kids stopping on the trail and helping other kids in the middle of races and things like that. It’s just good sportsmanship.”

Mountain bike racing is a relatively new sport at the high school level, and it hasn’t exactly taken off in popularity since the initial seeds were planted in the late 1990s. Dublin School competes against about a dozen other teams from around New England. The teams come from both public and private schools, though the majority are private, something Jackson would love to see change in coming years.

“I would love to see it take off in public schools,” Jackson said. “I think mountain biking’s a great sport, so I think it would be awesome if every student that wanted to ride, whatever school they went to, had a chance to do something like this. You come to a race like this, and yeah, they’re all wearing different uniforms, but everybody talks to each other after the races. It’s just a big bonding kind of a race. It’s not like soccer or something where you go out and it’s like ‘Beat the other team! Kill kill kill!’ We race, we fall down sometimes, and then we hang out and drink Moxie after the race.”

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