By Pixie Sulser
The Ramona High School Cycle Dawgs finished their third season with junior Garrett Gaither earning a 10th place finish in the 25-mile California State Competition held in Marin County.
Gaither, who joined the team as a freshman under the encouragement of his father, thought the team sounded like fun and a way to do something a little different. Little did he realize he would soon be a top ranked cyclist with the distinct possibility of competing at the collegiate level.
Team members Kyle Skeen (junior) and Jaron Cappos (Mountain Valley Academy freshman) also qualified and represented Ramona in the state competition.
The RHS nine-member team ended the 2013 season having competed in six races, earning several individual honors and the program’s first team trophy.
“It’s exciting to watch the experienced cyclists push themselves and the less experienced improve,” commented Robert Grace, team adviser. “It’s been a learning experience for me as much as for them. The whole idea of a cycling team was actually the result of a conversation with Ramona Trails Association member Arvie Degenfelder. The association needed a wheeled component and Arvie knew I cycled so when she spoke to me about starting a team, I was intrigued by the idea of sharing a sport with students that they can participate in their entire lives.”
Grace said that, besides the physical part of the sport, a large portion of the training is about self-reliance. The student-athletes register themselves online for race competitions and are responsible for their equipment, maintenance of that equipment, and getting to and from races.
Race days are really race weekends with the first day spent setting up the course and the second day focusing on the racing.
Nothing is local. The team has driven as close as an hour away and as far as 240 miles away to compete.
“The sport is completely self-funded and supported,” shared Grace. “The athletes are family sponsored and we all work together to get everyone and their bikes to each race.”
The team trains together two days a week, and each individual athlete is expected to log in miles outside of team practice.
“We have 10 Mile Tuesdays,” said Grace, “and on Wednesdays we ride 20-plus with the adult group from Kirk’s Bike Shop. The goal for the athletes is to have 50 (miles) by Friday.”
Although the team is small by some standards, Grace hopes to see it grow as an alternative sport for athletes who are competitive but are not interested in the traditional sporting pursuits usually offered in high school.
“Cross country mountain biking is a lifelong sport,” he said. “A person can participate at 15 or 50.”
Ramona has great topography for riding and training, noted Grace.
“I want kids to come out, enjoy the trail and learn trail etiquette as well as the responsibilities of being a cyclist,” he said.
Jaime Leyva, a sophomore, and Gaither describe the sport as a fun way to take their minds off other concerns and just enjoy being outside.
“The physical activity makes you feel good,” commented Leyva, “and you can simply focus on the ride. And the rush you get when you are racing is the greatest!”
The RHS Cycle Dawgs, one of two teams in San Diego County, are a Division II team in the SoCal Cycling High School League, which is part of the National Inter-Scholastic Cycling Association representing high school leagues from coast to coast.
There are 36 teams in the SoCal Division II category and 11 Division I teams, teams with 12 or more racers.