NICA Literature Contest Winning Essay: Heidi Martin

This year, we partnered with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association to host a literature contest encouraging student-athletes to write about how mountain biking has effected their lives, specifically how their coaches have been a part of the experience.

The prompt was: Has your NICA coach helped you develop not just as a rider but in character as well? Describe in 750-1000 words how you have been able to develop a strong character with the support of your coach through interscholastic cycling. 

The top 3 essays will be published here on the Dirt Rag website. You can find the others here.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this contest – we got a lot of great responses and it was hard to pick the top ones! Also thanks to Stans NoTubes, Park Tool, Shimano and Trek for providing prizes. 


By Heidi Martin, Manitou Mountain Monsters, Colorado. 

Throughout my nine years of competing in the cycling world, I’ve never met a coach that has changed my character outside of cycling until I joined the Manitou Mountain Monsters
cycling team. My prior teams and coaches all encouraged me to focus on myself and my training. I spent many years learning strictly about cycling and how it affected me, but my cycling never positively impacted others until I was taught a better way. Coach Eric Vaillancourt and Coach Joe McNerney have taught me how to build a strong community, empower others and be kind by leading by example.

The Coaches Eric and Joe do not just coach, they mentor our team members. From the moment I joined the team, they have treated every member with respect despite their skill level. They emphasize the importance of positive energy and positive community before we practice. The entire background of our team was created to build an environment where students can be a team, be themselves and learn leadership skills that would help them in all areas of their lives. Coach Joe and Eric both have continuously demonstrated how to encourage and surround our team with positivity. When practices get tough, our team survives on the energy we’ve created from friendship. We’re all supported and encouraged, regardless of our skill levels. These coaches have changed my character and has made me more positive. They’ve taught me how to be humble and companionate. When one teammate falls down, our bond that we’ve built gives us the strength to come back up. Our team extends to more than just the coaches and riders.

Parents, school administrators, and cyclists in our community are brought into our circle. We host team dinners and parties so that everyone including non-racers can be involved. Our team has grown as a family because of our coaches pushing the importance of team bonding. My coaches have shown me that it’s more than just me that keeps me on bike. I may be weak at some points but other teammates support me and help me push through tough times. I am a part of some thing much bigger than myself. I am responsible for giving back more than what I take.

After our season was over, our team continued to stay the best of friends because we have learned that we are stronger together. I’ve developed friendships and bonds that are unbreakable and I’m continuing to learn how to grow friendships because of the things I’ve learned during cycling season.

Cycling, as we all know, can be a very expensive sport. Oftentimes, promising athletes are held back by lack of funding. Coach Joe and Eric make certain that everyone gets the equipment that they need. Our team swaps and donates bikes and equipment amongst the team families and their connections. When someone needs something, Coach Joe and Eric leave no stone unturned to make sure that the need gets met. They have spent many nights devoting their time rebuilding and fixing our bikes. They’ve volunteered at multiple trail rebuilding events to help. They have painstakingly taught us how to maintain our own equipment and be responsible for being on time and prepared. This is how we are taught to show gratitude. Most importantly, they give us encouragement and makes us feel that the reason they give us so much is because we are worth their time and energy. They have taught us to respect one another and ourselves by putting others first and not taking our blessings for granted. We each feel special. And I feel like I have no limits on what I can achieve whether I am on or off my bike.

I have applied these lessons to other situations in my life. At home I’ve learned to support my sister more to achieve a better relationship. At school I try to help and encourage others who may be struggling to find their place. I show my parents more gratitude for the time and money they’ve poured into my cycling. I want my life to be filled with the same supportive networks that I have experienced with my cycling team and I know that for that to happen, it starts with me. I remember the lessons that I have been taught by Coach Eric and Coach Joe, that giving of myself, remembering to encourage others, and being grateful is how I can build better communities in all areas of my life. That’s what makes me a better person and when I’m a better person, I’m a better cyclist.

Heidi won a Stans No Tubes Crest MK3 wheelset for her essay. Congrats, Heidi! 

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