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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Anthony Branch & The Youth Off Road Riders

If you are in the Iowa City area, chances are you have heard of the Youth Off Road Riders (YORR). In case you haven't, YORR is a non-profit group, in conjunction with the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County (NCJC) to get youth on bikes. The man behind it all is Anthony Branch. It started with him piquing the interest of the youth he works with, when they would see him commute home on bike after work or head out for a group ride. Their curiosity, along with encouragement by the executive director of NCJC, and Tony’s ingenuity and commitment led to the formation of the Youth Off Road Riders.

Last year, nine youth were able to participate competitively in cycling events, with many more participating non-competitively. Read below to see how Tony was able to accomplish this, where he sees the group going in the future, and what you can do to help!  
How long have you been a cyclist?
I’ve been crazy about riding bikes since age 4; some of my fondest childhood memories involve riding bikes. Not sure you could exactly call me a cyclist then but I would sort of consider myself a cyclist now. I’ve been racing bikes since 2011

Tony leading by example - always a smile on
 his face while racing! Photo By Angy Snoop

Where did the idea for the Youth Off Road Riders originate?
The idea originated after kids started asking me questions about cycling when they would see me leave work to either train or commute home. From that curiosity I asked a few of them if they would be interested in riding RAGBRAI and I approached my executive director Brian who is also a cyclist about the possibility of creating a program to take kids on RAGBRAI. He loved the idea but also encouraged me to think about getting them involved in racing as well. So I went with his idea and from that idea Youth Off Road Riders was born.

When you started YORR a few years ago, did you ever think it would get to where it is today?
I did have a vision about the program being where it is today but I certainly didn’t think those goals would have happened in two years. I really contribute that success to the kids and families for trusting that the experience would fun and worthwhile for them. I also have to give a ton of credit to the overall cycling community in Iowa City, the local bike shops, and countless individuals that have offered support. They have all helped fast track the programs success. 

Where do you see YORR going in the next couple of years?
My vision for the next couple of years would be to increase the number of youth I can enroll in the program. So far we’ve been limited to how many kids we can realistically accommodate in the program from the standpoint of safety and resources for available to youth who don’t have a way to afford cycling. I also would like to create a scholastic cycling league.
Nothing makes me happier than to see up and coming female(!) youth out there racing!

What obstacles do you face in accomplishing this goal?
Funding is always the biggest obstacle. Cycling is an expensive sport and sometimes that excludes some from getting the opportunity to get involved in the sport. From the start its always been my objective to connect kids who wouldn’t have had an opportunity to connect to cycling.

How do youth get involved in the program, do you seek them out, or do they ask to join? And with limited funds, is there a waiting list for kids to join?
Kids seek me out as well as I ask kids to join if I think they would could benefit from the cycling experience. I don’t maintain a formal waiting list however if a kids is interested I try to be as creative and as accommodating as possible to getting them on a bike.
Tony with two of his racers

We all know how expensive cycling is, I’m sure monetary funds are greatly appreciated, but can people donate equipment or gear to the program as well (provided it is good condition)? And how can people go about making financial or other contributions?
We most certainly accept donation of equipment and gear. If people want to make a contribution financially we have a donation button on our website http://bit.ly/1mteSPP. If you have equipment to donate you can send an email to yorr@ncjc.org informing us of what you to donate and how to receive the donation.

What do you believe is the biggest impact this program has on the kids involved?
The development of their confidence and self-esteem not only from a cycling standpoint but as individuals. It’s offered them perspective into how to overcome challenges, set goals, and how to be dedicated.
The Youth off Road Riders at the Jingle Cross Rock Meet & Greet w/the Pro's

With so many athletic options at the local schools, why do you think cycling is important?
Unlike some sports offered in schools it’s something that you can do for a lifetime either leisurely, or as mode of transportation, along with the great health benefits it can offer.

A group of YORR riders checking out the course before Bobber's Cross

What do you think is the best way to grow the sport in regards to youth involvement?
 I believe in the idea “If you build it they will come” and by that I mean if we build and have more opportunities for kids to get involved they will. Open access not only for those who can afford it but try create ways to connect those who can’t.
And lastly – I’ve seen many people sporting the really nice looking YORR kits. Are those available to purchase?
 They are most certainly are available for purchase, we simply need enough people to have an interest (at least 5-10 depending on how many order a complete kit). Anyone interested in purchasing the kits can get in contact with us at yorr@ncj.org. Orders usually take 6 weeks to be in your hand from the time the order has been processed.

Thanks Tony for sharing your passion for cycling with the youth of our community! 

If you are looking for another way to help support the Youth Off Road Riders, make sure to put the upcoming  NCJC Youth Off-Road Riders Spring Benefit & Hand Built Bike Show on your calendars, March 7th, 2014. Clink on the link above to see more details! 
We are offering event sponsorship opportunities to local businesses, groups, and individuals. If interested in donating items for the silent auction or contributing financially, please contact either myself, or Robin Armstrong at robin-armstrong@ncjc.org.  We would be happy to provide more information and send you a sponsorship packet. Silent auction donations could include gift baskets, cycling apparel, race entries, merchandise, gift cards, art work, event tickets, weekend getaways, photography sessions, fitness/yoga sessions, or other professional services.


I hope to see you all there!



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Season Wrap Up & Top 10 Moments from 2013

It’s hard to believe the final race of the year has come and gone. What a season! There were of course ups and downs, but overall it was a great season. Three years ago when I started riding a bike, racing seemed like a crazy idea. I certainly didn’t ever think I would make it beyond the beginner’s category in any discipline if I did give it a try. I’m proud to have proved myself wrong and have earned an upgrade to Category 1 for Cross County Mtb, and Category 3 for Road and for Cyclocross. It’s been an incredible journey with a lot of hard work, but I can’t begin to express how rewarding it has been. I discovered an entirely new community, a cycling community that is warm, welcoming, and encouraging. I’ve met so many cool people and have made great new friendships. I’m already anxiously waiting next year’s race season to begin; I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

Top 10 Moments from 2013: 


1. Cyclocross Worlds in Louisville, KY

Getting to watch the Belgians race in person and watching Sven Nys take the win in front of a roaring crowd was pretty magical, but even that was not the highlight of the day. The most special moment for me was getting to meet Emily Batty in person! I saw her in front of the Trek tent and stopped dead in my tracks and had to ask Aaron if that was really her. I went up to chat with her and she was nicer than I could have imagined and took the time to genuinely chat with me. I made sure to thank her for being such an inspiration for women. I was nervous about taking too much of her time, but she just kept chatting and really talking with me. Thank you Emily for making my day! 

2. Old Cap Crit

The finish of the crit came down to a 3 way sprint. I came in 3rd and my teammate Alijah in 1st, I was just so incredibly happy to have been in the mix. And it was the finish to a great Omnium weekend. I think endorphins were kicking in big time! 

Photo By Justin Torner

3. Battle of Camrock (WORS) – Getting to Race With the Pro’s

This was my first race after upgrading to a Cat. 1 for Cross Country. Lining up next to a bunch of really talented ladies, some with Pro licenses was almost surreal. I really never expected I would get this far.

4. Winning the State Road Race (IA)

I came in 3rd place a lot this year, a win on the road always eluding me. Everything I learned with anticipating attacks, sharing the work, and timing my final sprint came together at this race and I got my first win for road racing! I promptly submitted by upgrade for a cat. 3 license after this race ;)

5. Taking My Nephew Mountain Biking

Not even a mile into the trails, hearing my nephew exclaim “I can really see why you like mountain biking so much” was music to my ears. It was a proud moment to be able to share something I love so much with my nephew. 

 6. Getting an Elusive Win in a Cat 1/Expert Mtb Race!

I was ecstatic to be able to podium several times in mountain bikes races this year, and I dreamed about being on the top step, but couldn’t ever quite get there. At Mattheissen, I was having a really good race and was in the lead, thinking I might actually get a win, when I sheared off my derailleur. I didn’t even crash, just got too close to a downed tree limb, and DNF’d. I was starting to think that I just didn’t have it in me this year. I went into Mud, Sweat, & Gears with a lot of determination, but no expectations. I pushed myself every second of that race and finally got my first cat 1/expert win!

7. Giving My Youngest Nephew His Very First Bike

This little guy is obsessed with bikes. He LOVED watching the bikers at the Chamois Time Crit, getting excited every time they would come around. I’ve been told he has also tried jumping out of the shopping cart at Target while going past the bike section! I knew he had to have one. He still can’t quite reach the ground with his feel while sitting on the saddle, but I’m determined to take him to Sugar Bottom for the novice loop in the spring. He’s mastered walking, so why not mountain biking next?!

Photo By Justin Torner

8. Single Speed USA

This could also easily be classified as one of my least favorite moments of the year. It was a grueling course with almost 5000 ft of climbing (a lot was hike a bike), it was about 5 miles longer than stated (39 miles), and while it was a mountain bike race, there was minimal single track, and the aid stations were poorly stocked. The only reason it is a top moment, is because I survived and didn’t think I would ;)

9. Aaron and I Getting Asked to Join our Club’s Elite Team, Mercy/Specialized

This was a great year for both of us. We were able to feed off each other’s motivation and hard work, pushing us both to put more effort into improving than before. I had a feeling Aaron might be asked to the team, but was thrown for a loop when I got my asked myself!

10. Starting my blog!

I’ll be honest; my blog came about after a big disappointment. Specialized was/is doing a really cool Women’s Ambassador Program, and I really wanted to be a part of it. Cycling has become such an important part of my life and I thought this would be really great platform for me to help grow the sport for women. One of the requirements of the Ambassador’s was bi-weekly blog posts. I had kind of wanted to start a blog, but was intimidated by it; this would have given me the needed push to start. Needless to say, I wasn’t selected as an Ambassador. I was pretty crushed at first, but then thought, hey why not just start a blog anyways? I don’t need a special title to make a difference! (Although Specialized Women, if you are reading this, I would still love to be an ambassador in the future! ;) )

I hope you all had a great race season! What were your favorite moments of 2013?