When I came to Hobart in April 2017, it was the start of a new life. Different state, new partner and future friends. I also had to re-establish a business in a town where I didn't know many people. I was lucky that, through my racing, quite a few people knew me. I had delivered skills training as part of national development training camps, but teaching absolute beginners wasn't something I had a lot of experience in. But there was so much demand for it in Hobart. It is literally a mountain biker's paradise but there were scant coaches and those that were here had other full time jobs to balance.
Reconnecting with an old friend, Russ, led to the YMCA MTB program being established in 2017. It was literally over a coffee we decided that Hobart really needed a kids mountain biking program. It was designed to run the duration of a usual school day and cost about the same as holiday care to make it a valid alternative. So we kicked off the program. We've had frost, sideways rain, heatwaves and glorious days in the sun. The sessions built; sold out; we created more sessions. We added venues which proved to be a challenge with the steep terrain and lack of toilet facilities.
Today, in our third year of the program, we had 19 first-time attendees at Tolosa Park. We keep coming back to Tolosa due to the facilities and trails. They're not the flowiest, jumpiest or more groomed. But they offer varied riding experiences, easy climbing and the open terrain makes it easy to supervise 19 kids. Also, having a shelter to come back to for lunch and clean toilets makes the experience better for all. It was a great day. Hot, but no flat tyres and all the blood stayed on the inside of the riders.
The smallest girl today would have been barely eight years old. She was struggling up the climbs with a bike with plus size tyres. Sure it rolled over things like a tractor, but those tyres are heavy for a little girl to ride all day. I walk at the back with her. She wants to stop. Her legs are tired. She doesn't like being away from her mum for this long she tells me. I listen. And then we keep walking up the climb. Moving forward. She rides when she can and walks when it's too steep. The kids asked me about my tattoo. It's a shark with the word "incesante". I ask them if they've seen Finding Nemo and remember the part where Dory says "just keep swimming"? I say that's what it means. And this girl is doing that. Just when I think she's about to give up she says "You know, sometimes you have to earn it. The fun stuff. We'll have fun riding down the hill but we have to earn it going up." Such wisdom from an 8 year old.
At pick-up time at the end of the day, some of the kids chattered excitedly about the day to their parent. Some were just ready for a big nap. It's quite a big day for them. Eventually Russ and I are left at the shelter together. We started remembering the start of the program, the progress we've made as coaches. And tremendous buzz we get from seeing progress in the riders. Every session there's one or two kids who we wonder "are they going to make it through the day?" They are usually the ones we beam about afterwards seeing how they progressed from nervousness and tears to riding with confidence. But it's bigger than riding bikes. We thank the more confident kids for their patience to allow the less confident to learn. We give kids responsibilities to teach them about looking out for each other. We let them push their own bikes to give them a feeling of self-efficacy and determination. Earning the fun stuff. A girl told me today she really "pushed outside her comfort zone". I felt honoured that we had created a space where she felt safe to do that. We both have other roles and jobs, but these sessions - these are the best days. We throw around some exciting ideas for the future (you'll just have to wait!) and agree that what we ultimately want, is to make a positive difference in people's lives. We say our goodbyes until the next morning for round two.
I head up the North South Track for my own ride. The day is finally getting cooler and it's been a while since I've been on this trail. It's a solid hour up hill on my heavy bike but my heart is full. A couple of kids fly around the corner in front of me, enjoying the descent. They brake heavily so we can all pass safely. One of them is a boy who has come to numerous YMCA session over the years. I remember him and his brother well. Nervous beginners. Not any more. He's grown a lot over the few years. And he speaks so adult here now. He greats me warmly and says I'm doing well riding up the mountain. His dad gave them both a lift to the Springs. That's cheating I say but I won't say 'no' if they want to offer me one next time. We have a laugh, chat about the snakes they've seen and then they're on their way, flying back down the mountain. I played a small part in that, I think. I watch them go and my heart is absolutely bursting.
I'm so grateful for the opportunities I've had. And so grateful to be in this place. Today was a good day.