As we all know it, life has changed. A lot! Only a few months ago, we were flying away to Mexico for the start of what was planned as an amazing racing season for 6 development riders who are part of Project Dialed In.
Mexico was, in more than one way, a life-changing experience for all of us. Let’s backtrack a few months.
The story was born via a common friend and mentor of mine, Pierre Hutsebaut, who linked mountain biking from Canada to Mexico. Most importantly, the two leaders at each end of the spectrum shared the same dream: To allow youth to grow via the beauty of sport. The story was actually born a few years ago, but the exchange project really came into place once the official contacts and plans were laid down in December of 2019. Yes, remember 2019?
As owner and director of Project Dialed In, this opportunity was too good to pass. I’ve been coaching professionally for over 25 years and I love it because of the art of performing at a high level, but I especially enjoy it as sport is an incredible school of life. When a teacher can combine training and an amazing cultural experience, you’re a winner on all sides.
At the other end of the map, Riccardo de la Torre, an entrepreneur, parent, and especially a leader within the cycling community of the province of Jalisco (Mexico), this idea was a long-term dream. I can still see and hear him as soon as the Canadian and Mexican riders joined forces on the first training ride: “Luc, this is a dream to me. Cycling is awesome and I’m so glad it can bring our kids to meet a different culture, practice a new language, and especially to meet new friends!”
From that first ride, bonds were immediately made; cyclists from two nations were teammates, they were friends, they ready to all battle together. The next fourteen days were simply amazing. We were able to get a perfect mix of training and cultural experiences into our schedule met some amazing people, lived the cyclist dream. At the end of the first week, it seemed like everyone knew the “orange and blue” boys in the small town of Capilla de Guadalupe. Have to admit it, after travelling the cycling world for 25 years, I totally ignored that Jalisco has an amazing mountain biking community.
Even during our first race there, which was also an incredible event with close to 1000 riders, everyone cheered for “Canada”!!!: “It was simply the most intense and fun races I’ve been too. I’ve never experienced anything like that at home!” mentioned one of our riders after crossing the finish line.
This is the part of the story where I should be telling you we all got back home and we went back to regular business… For us, like the rest of the planet, that normal has yet to happen. Returning home in the beginning of this crisis, where so much was unknown, people wearing the weirdest attires at the airport, flights cancelled, not understanding if we can or cannot eat at this restaurant, we knew we were embarking on the weirdest single-track ride.
And weird it was; just not sure if it was a ride or not.
When we got home, we each went our way, we were in complete isolation for 14 days, schools were closed, many lost their jobs, the unknown was in front of us. For an athlete, that is the worst possible feeling. It put some fear in us, some serious questioning, some setbacks, in fact, everyone was wondering what would happen with our planet. In the mind of a teenager, this could have a serious impact on his new life.
As a coach, I decided to create some weekly video conferences with them to keep them together as much as possible. We had very special guests talking to them during these chats, explaining to them that professional and junior riders were living the same fears, questions, challenges. Not going to lie by admitting planning was also a huge challenge for me as a coach. After all, how can you plan when you don’t know what, and especially when the next event will happen? Deep down, I had to look for opportunities, not challenges. We all knew one thing; our bike kept our mind checked in.
Along the way, we all discovered, as race-oriented, as we all are, all the boys were talking about during these conferences was about “how great it was in Mexico”, and “I can’t wait to see you again”. So, I decided to be creative and to craft a carefully written “return to play” protocol. We wanted the boys to get back together, in a safe and controlled way. We were lucky to all be based in a province (New Brunswick) that was not heavily affected by the virus, and also by the fact that cycling is an outdoor sport where physical distancing can easily be practised.
Of course, after stages of cycling as a recreational activity and some long weeks of individual training (and often soul searching), it was time to step it up and regroup. A test ride was organized on neutral trails where we all met individually, no parents, no restaurant involved to limit the crowd. Everything went smoothly, and especially, everyone was super happy to see each other, ride together, have youth talk about the last months, challenge each other. This is what a team should be all about.
Humans are social butterflies, so imagine how our teens, ready to challenge life and take on this planet, are feeling though this world crisis… alone.
After this successful attempt, it was time to bring them in for a 4 days camp. Technical stuff, new trails, jumping session, long rides, challenges, everything was in it. But most importantly, the social aspect was not forgotten. Outdoor BBQ, fun and games, karting, talks, laughs… let the human be human. World crisis or not lets never forget why we are doing this. Cycling is too much of a hard sport not to make it a bit fun.
And you know what, the words “race” came out once in a while during those four days, after all, this is why we all ride our bikes. But it wasn’t a high priority. Do you want to know what was the top discussion for these young men?
“When will we get to see our Mexican friends again?!?”
So yes, sport is competitive. I’m personally the first one in line to compete to be the shiniest grain of sand on the beautiful beach, and these guys all stand by me with that goal in mind. But for now, let’s just admire the beach all together.