NICA Stories – August 8

When GRiT (Girls Riding Together) was launched in 2018, its purpose was to invite more girls and women to the cycling community. Five years later, over 8,000 female student-athletes and coaches are riding dirt with NICA teams, reflecting a 4% increase in the percentage of female riders across the organization. 

The heroes responsible for leading this growth are the league GRiT Coordinators. These women organize league-level GRiT programming, while also training and empowering team-level GRiT coaches to recruit more girls and women to their teams. Last year, GRiT Coordinators collectively hosted over 110 events to get more girls involved in cycling! 

We want to feature two of our rad GRiT Coordinators this month. Beth Pride Ford, Tennessee’s GRiT Coordinator, is putting the finishing touches on her plans for their fall race season, her sixth in the role. Maegan Fitzgerald, from Texas, just wrapped up her first season as a co-coordinator and is hard at work planning off-season events and prepping for the upcoming spring season.  

The work of these heroes is supported by two key GRiT partners: Fox Factory’s Trail Trust and Terry Precision Cycling

Trail Trust supports GRiT in order to expand access to the sport of cycling, in which women and people of color are underrepresented. The Trail Trust grant funds the grassroots outreach events that GRiT Coordinators organize in their leagues. 

Terry Precision Cycling is helping to support the leadership development and training of GRiT Coordinators and coaches nationwide, and is providing our GRiT Coordinators with a custom jersey. Proceeds from the sale of GRiT jerseys will help support NICA GRiT programming

We checked in with Beth Pride and Maegan to learn more about their time as a GRiT Coordinator, their favorite events, and their best advice for girls and women in cycling! 

Maegan Fitzgerald – Texas
Beth Pride Ford – Tennessee

Women find this sport in so many different ways. How did you first discover mountain biking?

MF: My high school basketball coach had been introduced to cycling and suckered me into it as well! I came home during the summer in college and was working basketball camps across the country. I still needed to stay in shape for basketball and so we started riding mountain bikes on the road together. In between camps we would do a local taco Tuesday ride that had a small gravel section so everyone rode mountain bikes on the route.

So, actually, I started mountain biking but not on trails!On these rides sometimes we would see a local mountain bike racer riding the other direction from us and I would hear all about her accolades from the guys on the ride (I was often the only woman on the group ride). It kinda put the fire in me to ride trails. I hit the single track on occasion, but it wasn’t until after college that I started riding on trails more and more and never looked back! 

BPF: I always loved biking as a kid. I remember being thrilled to get a 10-speed bike in the late 70s, long before any kind of biking was popular in the U.S.When I started college at the University of Florida in 1984, I wanted to have a bike to ride on campus. It was THE year when the western mountain biking trend arrived in the eastern U.S. I started riding on sandy trails near campus, but later developed some basic riding skills. After graduating college, life “got in the way” of mountain biking for over twenty years – graduate school, marriage, children, and my job teaching economics.

When my son was about ten years old, he had a friend whose dad rode mountain bikes on the trails in the town where I still live and ride. We all started riding together and I remembered how much I loved mountain biking, nature, and biking with friends.Riding with my son was my launch into coaching and NICA.

My path since then has been so rewarding! From middle school coach, to league level Coach Supporter, and now as our Tennessee league GRiT Coordinator – it has all been a fantastic journey of personal growth and inspiring belief that getting more kids on bikes and more families involved as a community is truly valuable. 

There are so many kinds of GRiT events, like Try It Outs, Social Rides, and Race Meetups. What is your favorite kind of event to put on? 

MF: I really enjoy our GRiT rides on race weekends, we have such great turnout for these rides and the energy is always so high. This off-season we are working on planning our more try-it-out rides and making those a more regular part of GRiT for the Texas league. The first one we did was a huge success. We had girls and women of all ages and skill levels show up even though it had poured rain leading up to the event. We were only able to ride a small segment of single track but did some double track and adventure games and it was a blast. 

BPF: I enjoy every GRiT event – each one is different and has great value! My favorite event is the GRiT Dads, Daughters, and Donuts Adventure Ride that I tried for the first time this spring and definitely want to repeat. The adventure ride was extra adventurous, as it poured down raining about halfway through! What was so valuable and memorable to me was seeing dads and daughters creating memories, enjoying biking, and sharing a deeply meaningful (although quite soggy) experience together.  

What are you most looking forward to this upcoming season?

MF: I am really looking forward to the continued development of our GRiT Ambassador and Coach program. The drive and leadership amongst this group is awesome and we are going to work this season to better support GRiT coaches and ambassadors not just at races, but pre-season and locally for their teams and areas. 

BPF: I am looking forward to a great sixth season of GRiT in our league!Working with our league GRiT Ambassadors:Meeting many new girls and their families; Engaging with our league GRiT coaches; andCreating opportunities for moms to enjoy riding bikes, too!In addition to the GRiT DDD Adventure Ride, I am proud of how the GRiT Saturday Sisters Ride during race weekends has become valued by girls and female coaches in our league to ride together as a safe, supportive, and welcoming community. 

Every league’s schedule is different, especially when we think about Spring and Fall leagues. What does your GRiT schedule look like annually?

MF: Last season we focused on our GRiT rides on race weekends and offered fun activities at our GRiT tent beforehand. But we are hoping to up our game during the off-season, starting with more try-it-out events spread across Texas.  

BPF: Tennessee is a fall league, so most of our GRiT events are on race weekends (Saturday Sisters Rides, tent activities, and MOBS (Moms on Bikes) clinics). In the spring we have educational opportunities – maybe a NICA 8-hour first aid class, or a GRiT coach mentoring session at the Leader’s Summit. Two weeks before our race season starts we are having a league Bike Festival. This year I have scheduled GRiT mechanic clinics for girls interested in learning more about bike care and maintenance. We will also have a GRiT ride at this event which will be a fun opportunity for our GRiT Ambassadors to meet other girls in the league before the race weekends begin.In the future, I would like to explore the possibility of creating a regional GRiT ride with the Mississippi league, but our league seasons are opposite so the timing might be challenging. 

League culture plays a huge role in local events. What makes your league’s GRiT program unique? 

MF: I think one thing that makes the Texas league unique, which has its trickle down effects on all the programs for the Texas league, is the distance between teams and regions. We always have to take into consideration the distance people are having to drive to get to races and other NICA/TX league events. That is one reason we are shifting our focus to local/regional try-it-out events in the off-season that can be led by GRiT coaches based in those locations, with support from my co-coordinator Meredith and me. I think it is going to have a huge impact on growing TX GRiT and getting more girls (and women and all who identify as such) on bikes.  

BPF: Wow, tough question! Ultimately, I think every GRiT program is unique because each girl or woman who participates is unique. GRiT programs across the country are providing amazing opportunities, some very similar and some quite different. But, every girl or woman involved with GRiT will come away with an experience and meaning unique to who she is. That is really special! Thanks for chatting with us!

Final question: What message do you wish you could send to every girl on a mountain bike?

MF: It doesn’t matter your skill level or speed, just have fun and enjoy the outdoors! Whether you want to win every race, just get some exercise amongst the trees, or hang out with friends, mountain biking has a place for everyone!

BPF: I want every girl to believe she is enough as she is – and that she always has the magic inside herself to create a life filled with love, joy, and purpose.Whether you are a coach, parent, or student-athlete, we think everyone can learn something from the way Beth Pride and Maegan lead their communities. We thank them, and all the other incredible NICA volunteers who work hard to get #MoreGirlsOnBikes!