Mentoring on Mountain Bikes
The Little Bellas do more than bring waves of young girls to the sport – they get them hooked for life.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
After a grueling, 20-minute mountain sprint bike race, most top-tier professional athletes prefer a cold drink and a massage, but Lea Davison, who races for the Specialized Factory team, prefers to help young women pedal up on their cycling skills.
In 2007, Davison and her younger sister Sabra started the Little Bellas mountain bike camp after they saw a lack of females in amateur cycling races in their home state of Vermont.
“I always knew it was my mission to go as fast as I could on a bike,” says Lea, 29, who is a four-time Specialized team member competing for the world championship. “I wanted to use that as a platform for empowering women.”
Sabra, 26, who races for the Nordic skiing team Swix Atomic, grew up cycling with Lea and laid out the Little Bellas program for her senior project at Middlebury College. It was founded as a program in which mentors would help girls ages seven to 14 build self-esteem while building cycling skills.
“The focus has always been encouraging women and creating a network for women to ride together,” Lea says. “The common thread is simple: that we all like to ride bikes.”
The first camp had twice as many mentors as participants, but parents spread the word quickly.
“It had a large positive effect on girls, more so than I ever imagined,” says Lea.
The camp, in its third year at Sea Otter Classic, runs one to three days, during which girls work on physical growth in cycling exercises like how to properly ascend and descend a hill while pedaling. But more importantly, Sabra says they work on building self-esteem.
“It is the best part of the day after I finish a hard race,” says Lea. “I feed off all their energy.”
Lea says they get a mix of riders at camps. Some have never ridden before, while other have tricked-out bikes and gear. But every girl arrives with an opportunity to grow.
“It’s not only a skill progression, but a confidence progression,” says Lea. “We are goofy and open and we are ourselves, and we hope the girls will mimic that.”
Sabra remembers a girl from their first year at Sea Otter who could barely pedal.
“I had to ride with her the entire first day,” says Sabra. “By the end of the weekend she had ridden the downhill mountain course and was outwardly more confident.”
Graduates (and their parents) have suffered withdrawls, so the Davisons launched a spin-off group.
“We have had girls graduate the program and had parents say, ‘No, they can’t be done!’” Sabra says. “We created LB Ride as an advanced, older group to keep riding together.”
For more information on the Little Bellas camp, visit www.littlebellas.com