By Cate Mertins, NICA Racer for Haas Hall Academy

National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) has given Cate Mertins, a student athlete for the Haas Hall Academy team, confidence, opportunity and community involvement through mountain biking.

For seven years, I have been riding mountain bikes, but it wasn’t until I joined NICA that I fell in love with the sport. It was because of my dad that I discovered the program. After doing my own research about NICA, I decided to start a team at my school, Haas Hall Academy.

The passion and interest that I have for NICA is electric, and I wanted other kids to experience the same thing. I gave presentations at Hass Hall’s Fayetteville and Bentonville campuses during the spring semester of 2016 and found others who wanted in on the fun of racing mountain bikes.

Practice began that summer, and we became one of the founding teams of the Arkansas NICA league.

Cate Mertins (right) hanging with her friends before the Slaughter Pen NICA race.

Surprisingly, my first season went a lot better than expected.  I claimed the seat of 10th Grade Female Arkansas State Champion and our team finished 2nd in the state championship race and in points for the entire season. This was a huge accomplishment for Haas Hall. Our team, representing a small school, competed against every team in the state – regardless of size.  Haas Hall is also a nationally recognized charter school with an exclusive focus on academics. While I’m proud to be a part of an academically competitive school, its clear sports are also a priority.

Our practices are after school and led by parent volunteers. Last year, we didn’t even have money for team jerseys – we raced in our P.E. t-shirts. We’re currently looking for sponsors to help this year. *WINK*

Because NICA teaches riders better bike handling skills, I am now safer and more comfortable on my bike – which makes the shred so much better.

“Personally, racing mountain bikes has changed my life.”

Mountain biking has been given me so much. It has given me the physical fitness to race for Breakaway Cycling, a local junior development road cycling team and to join my school’s cross country team. I gained the confidence to try out (and make) my school’s cheerleading team. Before NICA, I might not have had that confidence.

In the community, I’ve been more involved by helping with local trail building and trail advocacy. Through NICA, I was given the opportunity to speak at last year’s World Summit of the International Mountain Biking Association that was hosted in Northwest Arkansas. An experience that I will never forget.

Cate with Danny MacAskill during the 2016 IMBA World Summit in Bentonville, AR

Just try it out! 

I know it might sound scary if you’ve never ridden a mountain bike, but there are endless resources in our region that will teach you the ins and outs of mountain biking. Once you get the technique and start practicing, the skills come to you naturally.

We’re beyond lucky to be surrounded by so many great trails in Northwest Arkansas. Especially my personal favorite, the downhill track at Slaughter Pen. You do have to ride up a very long, steep hill to get to there, but the downhill is definitely worth the climb. It’s a smooth, no-pedal, free flow ride. Basically, a free roller coaster.