Regional: Nonprofit program Cycle Effect enters third year with success stories
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and that means it’s mountain bike time for the Cycle Effect girls. Bikes are being passed around, rain jackets are donned and hair is being braided — you know, the necessary preparations for some serious cycling.
Looking at the 15 or so teen girls on the blustery afternoon, you might have thought the impressive part was that they were riding despite the looming rainclouds. But Cycle Effect founder Brett Donelson will tell you that’s the least of their accomplishments, which include earning college scholarships, breaking down stereotypes and being trailblazers for their peers. In the three years since the nonprofit started putting underserved girls on mountain bikes and teaching them how to compete and live healthy lifestyles, the program has grown almost four-fold, and it will be sending its first graduates on to college.
“This year we’ll work with close to 75 girls — we only worked with 18 when we started,” said Donelson, who founded the program with his wife Tamara. “We’ll have 50 girls racing regularly 10-plus times a year.”
That includes events like the town series, and other races around the state, as well as weekly structured practices, nutrition clinics, community service, and strength workouts during the winter. One unexpected result of the program is enabling participants to go to college.
“We just realized this last summer, but any girl who has been a part of our program for three years or more has gone to college, and many of them are the first in their family to do so,” said Donelson. “By the end of this year, we’ll have over 12 of our girls who are in college. We’ll hope to send 10 to 15 in a year once our sophomore girls graduate.”
While Cycle Effect doesn’t provide scholarships, it helps girls find financial aid, navigate the application process and provide a disciplined structure that they believe helps the girls in college and beyond.
Cycle Effect started with the idea that everyone in the valley should have the opportunity to ride bikes and live a healthy lifestyle. The Donelsons began to recruit, coming up with a small, ragtag group of girls in the first year. None of them had ever mountain biked before, and soon the Donelsons had them competing in local races.
“We were chosen,” laughs Rita Gutierrez, 18. “We were in eighth grade soccer practice and we were told, ‘Hey, there’s this guy who wants to find girls who want to ride mountain bikes.’ We were like, ‘Eh. We’ll try it, but no promises.’”
These days, Gutierrez is a team leader and one of the fastest girls on the squad. She also recently earned a full scholarship to Mesa University after she was awarded a national leadership award for her help with starting up the Cycle Effect. While accepting the award, she impressed the board members so much that someone offered her a full ride to college.
“I nominated her for this award because Rita has been with us since the beginning, and having 50-plus Latino women riding bikes is all because of her,” said Donelson. “There was a woman there who called us later and said she was so impressed that she wanted to send Rita to college and help out the program.”
Team captain Coco Andrate will also be headed to Mesa University on a scholarship
“We were the girls who said, ‘We want to go to college, we don’t care what everyone else says,’” said Andrate. “Our parents were very proud. They said, ‘You’re going, because we didn’t get to.’”
And how does mountain biking translate into academic success? Donelson thinks it’s the support the girls on the team get from their coaches, and the discipline and life skills the sport teaches them that make the difference.
“We knew the biking was going to teach great life lessons and provide mentorship, and now we also know that we can be a real catalyst in helping them get into school,” he said. “And I think that if you get any kid around decent role models, they change.”
A new crop of riders
The team’s original members are now bringing in a whole new generation of Cycle Effect girls. The younger girls hear about bike racing and see how much fun their friends are having, and they want to be part of it, too. Needless to say, Donelson no longer has to recruit at the soccer fields for new riders. The team also expanded to Summit County last year.
The team’s newest rising star, 17-year-old Abby Elizalde, originally joined the team because of Gutierrez and Andrate. She’ll be the next team leader, and will be the first team member to compete at nationals this summer.
“The girls are seeing the possibilities of things they didn’t know were out there,” said Donelson. “We’ve got eighth graders looking at us now saying, ‘Hey, I want to go to nationals.’”
Cindy Menjivar, 15, says she’s already seen Cycle Effect make an impact on her grades and choices.
“I joined so that I could be active and not do things my friends are doing, like drugs. It also helps me keep my grades up because otherwise we can’t ride,” she said. “I love being a part of it because when you come here, you feel loved, like you’re part of a family.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.
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