By Ben Conant
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
(Published in print: Thursday, November 14, 2013)
Mountain bike racing requires endurance, speed, mental acuity, mechanical aptitude and above all else, the will to finish the race. Dublin School students have the unique opportunity to gain all those attributes and more; the school is one of a handful in the state that fields a mountain bike racing team. The team was founded in 2011 by then-faculty member Bill Farrell as part of a push for endurance athletics.
Farrell, who had previously pioneered a similar team at Kimball Union Academy, had no trouble pitching it at Dublin School. The rolling, hilly campus lends itself brilliantly to the sport; at home meets, bikers race on trails that weave in and out of the woods behind the school’s lower fields, culminating in what some racers have called a “soul-crushing” final climb.
“I love the hills. Hills are where I pass people,” senior Brendan Palmer said after a recent race. Palmer joined the team in his sophomore year without ever having biked competitively; he said that he has grown a lot as a person and competitor during the past three years on the team.
“If you had looked at me freshman year,” Palmer said, “I would have hated this race. I would have been walking that final hill. I would have had a miserable time. But now I can do this race, go out and come in third.” A mountain bike race is typically around 2.5-3 miles long, with racers completing 2-4 laps of the course, depending on which division (A, B or C) they ride in. Palmer had his best career finish that October day, a third-place finish that his coach, Jesse Jackson, said would never have been possible when Palmer first joined the team.
“At the beginning,” Jackson said, “he was kind of one of those guys who was like ‘Eh, I don’t really know if I like mountain biking,’ and he was sort of taking his time most of the races, but now he really has taken it upon himself to push himself. Just seeing the growth of those guys from where the program was at the beginning, where it was like ‘Let’s all just get on a bike and hopefully we don’t kill ourselves out on the trail,’ to now – we’re racing. They’re actually thinking like racers as opposed to riders.”
Jackson, who is an academic skills tutor, had never coached competitive mountain biking before coming to Dublin School; he took over the duties this year after Farrell was forced to retire due to a medical condition. As a longtime mountain biking enthusiast, Jackson would probably be out there on those early-evening rides whether there was a team or not.
“Just going for a ride every day is good,” Jackson said, “because I’ve been in class all day, they’ve been in class all day, but at the end of the day, we just meet at the bike shed up there and just take off for a ride into New England autumn.”
Jason Boyle, a physics and chemistry teacher who is an assistant mountain biking coach, said he was drawn to biking due to the “phenomenally technical” nature of the sport. He’s grown to appreciate the time spent on those long rides, which give the coaches and athletes a lot of time to bond.
“You get a lot of one-on-one time with students,” Boyle said. “You’re either waiting for someone or fixing a flat or something, and there’s a lot of really dynamic interpersonal stuff. It gives you a chance to interact with students in a much more fun way and keep the conversation educational It’s kind of a natural flow. There’s a conversation, there’s an attitude, there’s a lot of things that go along with being a productive person that can be taught through mountain biking.”
While both coaches agreed that the team draws a more academically-minded group of student-athletes than more traditional sports, it’s still safe to say that the lessons learned while practicing and competing help the racers achieve more across the board in their studies. Palmer told us the experience has helped him immensely.