Oz Trailer Interview | Cate Mertins
Aug 14, 2017 AT 20:34 BY Cate Mertins
How long have you been riding?
I have been riding mountain bikes for seven years, but didn’t start loving the sport until I started with NICA last year. The program taught me better bike handling skills, so I became safer and more comfortable on the bike, which makes it more fun to ride. 

How did you discover NICA?
I discovered NICA when my dad told me about it. I thought it was really interesting, so I did some research then started the NICA team at my school, Haas Hall Academy. I put on presentations at both of our campuses during the spring semester of 2016 and found other kids who wanted to race mountain bikes.  We began practices that summer, and became one of the founding teams of the Arkansas NICA league. 

How did your first season go?
My first season actually went a lot better than expected! I became the 10th grade female Arkansas state champion, and our team finished 2nd place in the state championship race and in points for the entire season. This was a huge deal for my school for two reasons. First, Haas Hall is a small school that competed against every other team in the state, regardless of size. In other sports, Haas Hall competes as a 3A school, but in mountain biking we raced everyone in the state and finished right behind 7A Bentonville High School.  Second, Haas Hall is a nationally recognized charter school focused almost exclusively on academics. I’m happy about that, but to say sports are not a priority at Haas Hall would be an understatement. My school doesn't fund any of our sports teams or spend a minute of the school day on sports. Our mountain bike practices are after school and run by parent volunteers. Last year, we didn't even have money for team jerseys- we just raced in our P.E. T-shirts. We’re looking for sponsor this year, by the way. In short, I’m really proud of our team’s hard work and accomplishments last year. 

Personally, racing mountain bikes changed my life. It got me in shape to run on my school’s cross country team and race for Breakaway Cycling, a local junior development road cycling team.  I also tried out for (and made) my school’s cheerleading team, something I might not have had the confidence to try before NICA. Outside of sports, NICA also helped me get more involved in local trail building and trail advocacy, and gave me the opportunity to speak at the World Summit of the International Mountain Biking Association.

What are you looking forward to this season?
I am super excited about having more girls racing this year. We have at least 5 girls on our team and I know the other teams also have more girls this year.  I’m also excited about camping overnight at some of the races. Last year, there was camping at one race, but I wasn't able to make it. I heard it was a lot of fun. They grill out, everyone gets to sit by the fire and hang out with fellow teammates and kids from other teams. Then in the morning, you get up and race! 

Any advice for a fellow student who might be interested in joining a team?
Just try it out! It might sound scary if you’ve never ridden a mountain bike, but your coaches and teammates will teach you everything you need to know. Once you get how to do it, it only takes a little bit of practice before the skills start coming to you naturally.

What is your favorite Oz Trail?

We’re really lucky to have so many great trails in Northwest Arkansas. My favorite Oz Trail is probably the downhill track at Slaughter Pen. You do have to ride up a very long, steep hill to get to there, but my coach says that’s just more training for racing. And the downhill is definitely worth the climb. It is so smooth and flow-y, and you don't have to pedal at all. Overall, an amazing and very fun trail. Basically, a free roller coaster.
Brian Lopes | Northwest Arkansas