I first followed Jesse Swift on twitter (@GoldenBeard1) last year after seeing some pictures he took from the Back to Basics cx races. Twitter is great that way--finding people near or far that have the same likes and hobbies. Most of the people I follow on Twitter ride bikes. So it was ironic that I finally met Jesse in person a few months ago at a local 5k run. Since then I've seen Jesse and his bright bike all over the place. He's just one of those guys that loves to ride his bike. And when people love something that much, it tends to be infectious. So it came as no surprise to me when I caught a picture on Instagram about his middle school mtb club. I had to know more. Meet Jesse Swift. The man behind the "Golden Beard".
[303 Cycling]: How long has this club been in the making?
Jesse: The mtb club is new this fall. I had a skate club for about 5 years that started during my first year of teaching at Bell. We would go and skate at the park behind Bell. Before, there were more kids into street skating, and I grew up skating too, so I enjoyed offering that for the students at Bell. Over the past few years, it seems that longboarding has become more popular so less kids were a part of skate club but I also noticed more and more students were into mountain biking. A mother of an incoming 7th grader had contacted me in the spring last year. Then at the beginning of this year, a current 8th grade student asked about a club too. So, with that level of interest, I spoke to the principal and got the club up and running a month or so into the school year.
[303 Cycling]: How many kids do you have in the club and what are the age ranges?
Jesse: We have had up to 14 kids on rides and most often 10 kids or so show up. All the way from 6th grade to 8th grade and the ages are from 12-14. We have also had up to 4 female students on rides and most often at least 1-2 female students show up.
[303 Cycling]: How about skill ranges?
Jesse: There is a HUGE range of skills. Some students have never mtn biked before and some spend the summer racing mtn bikes or have ridden in Moab with their families. Roadmasters to Yetis!
[303 Cycling]: How many parents/adults do you have helping out? Do they all have strong cycling backgrounds?
Jesse: I usually have 3 or so parents that show up on the rides with us. One parent is a racer, whereas other parents just have mtn biked a little. So like the kids, there is a big range of abilities there too. I even have some of my mtn bike buddies who come out and ride with us too. I think its important for the students to have someone other their parent giving them tips on riding. Hopefully they will be more open to getting advice from peers or other cyclists. Without the help from the parents, my friends and even some of the high school racers, we couldn't have a club.
[303 Cycling]: You get together on Friday afternoons after school. Run through a typical "practice" for us.
Jesse: Yeah, we bike on Friday afternoons which seems to be best for the students and teachers. During the week, I take a look at the weather and touch base with a couple of the parents about that weeks ride. I'll send a mass email out to the riders and let them know the plans and what to wear for weather. Then on Friday, we meet right after school, eat a quick granola bar, check for helmets, and figure out who all is coming and the car pool situation. Sometimes we can ride to the trails, like S. Table Mesa, or other times we car pool over to Green Mountain.
Before we start out, I try to give the kids some info and a heads up on the trail we are going to ride. We all start out as a group as we get warmed up. Then after 30 minutes or so we try to split into two skills groups. A parent or biker buddy will lead the more experienced kids up a harder trail and then other adults will take the other riders less difficult way. We usually meet back up in the parking lot for cookies and cheers at the end!
[303 Cycling]: What's been the biggest surprise this Fall regarding the club?
Jesse: There have several big surprises for me. The first is the interest level of the kids and the second is the parent involvement. Its been great to get to know the different students at Bell in a different situation then just the classroom. And the parent ability to help out on the rides is huge! Another big surprise is on one ride we headed up Chimney Gulch. I didn't think we would get very far but some of the kids almost made it to the top!
[303 Cycling]: Middle School can be an awkward time for kids. As a teacher at Bell, I'm sure you see this alllllllllll the time. Do the kids in this club gravitate towards each other during the school week or the weekends outside of the club? Has confidence grown this Fall as the kids have gained physical skills?
Jesse: Yes, middle school is an awkward time and most kids are just trying to find something to be a part of. Some of the kids are friends outside of school and do bike together on the weekends. I have definitely seen a few become more confident as their skills have grown through the fall. I am also happy that the students are getting to know Golden much better. They say, "I never knew we had a mtn bike park," or "I've never ridden this trail."
[303 Cycling]: Any wicked hidden talent that you've discovered?
Jesse: Hidden talent? Well, we do have some younger Bell students that will be here for the next couple of years that I hope to really spend some time with and get them comfortable riding trails and building their skill base. [Editor's note: Jesse mentioned four young men here (off the record) that are surely destined to make us all weep at the races soon, but that's for me to know and you to find out.]
[303 Cycling]: Have the kids seen you race? Any of them interested in pursuing cross or mtb racing in High School or even now?
Jesse: I've gotten to see one kid at a cyclocross race and another riding at the Valmont bike park and I know one downhill races in the summer. I think most of them are excited about racing cross country for the high school. Golden High School is the first high school in the state that offer students the ability to letter and even get a pin for racing mountain bikes!!!! Imagine lettering in mountain biking, how cool is that??!!
[303 Cycling]: Do you plan to continue this next year?
Jesse: The plan for next year? Now that we have a core group of students, next year we will be able to get up and running much faster. I have lots of ideas but the most important is to continue to grow the club, and get more girls involved. I'd like to get jerseys made some day too. Another idea I have is I would like to support the high school team at a race. I think it would be good to have the middle school students see what a mtb race looks like prior to them racing in high school. I'd like them to see the determination of the high schoolers racing and the support they have for each other.
[303 Cycling]: Can you share your favorite story about the club so far?
Jesse: Well, there was one student who came out to the first club ride but had never ridden. Before we left the school, the cassette was broken on her bike. She was disappointed, she couldn't ride. I took the bike home and got it fixed over the weekend. Getting the bike to and from school was hard for the student's family, so they left it locked at school. By the time the next ride was up, the bike had been stolen. :( My heart was broken for the student! Our Vice Principal had some connections and luckily, the Golden Optimists Club gave her a bike. The next week, the student was out riding around N.Table Mesa on the new bike!
[303 Cycling]: Anything else you'd like our readers to know?
Jesse: I just feel very lucky to live and work in a small but awesome biking community like Golden. I am the engineering teacher as a part of the growing iSTEM program at Bell Middle School. My job is to expose kids to engaging problem solving and learning in the classroom then I get to go out biking with them too! I love Golden! :)
So the next time you see Jesse out on a ride or in a race, give him a little fist pump for growing the sport and joyously teaching our kids during the most awkwardly, heinous time ever (at least in my opinion): middle school.