A passion for cycling

By Dick Mason, The Observer March 29, 2013 09:44 am

Several of the La Grande High School alternative education program students are preparing for a 150-mile bicycle ride along the Oregon Coast. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Several of the La Grande High School alternative education program students are preparing for a 150-mile bicycle ride along the Oregon Coast. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)

New endurance cycling program renews focus of La Grande area alternative school students

by DICK MASON / The Observer  

Do not let the almost always empty bicycle racks in front of La Grande High School’s alternative education center fool you.

Many of the center’s 18 students have a passion for bicycling, especially the long-distance variety. And its a passion gaining steam faster than a team of Tour de France cyclists pedaling downhill on Mount Revard in the French Alps. 

The students are taking to endurance biking in a big way thanks to a new cycling mentoring program starting at the LHS alternative center, which serves at-risk students. 

“It gives us the opportunity to feel successful at something,” said Tyler Pierce, a student and participant in the cycling program. “We now strive to be successful at other aspects of life.”

Through the program, made possible by a $7,830 grant from the Union County Commission on Children and Families, alternative program students are dramatically boosting their endurance while improving their understanding of cycling. 

“Some students who could ride only 10 miles are now riding 50 miles,” said Ted Wilton, LHS’s alternative education teacher.” ... Once you get your cycling legs, the miles add on exponentially.”

Developing an ability to cycle long distances is boosting the students’ self-esteem.

“It gives them confidence knowing that they can push beyond the pain threshold,” Wilton said.

Endurance cycling is new to the students primarily because many are from families that cannot afford bikes. The availability of the bikes seems to have released a pent-up desire to ride, which many probably never knew they had.

This is most evident on weekends when the students meet at the alternative education center for long rides with Wilton and Jill Swinn, a para-professional for the LHS alternative education program. Wilton said students are often lined up outside the center waiting to get inside and hop on one of the 10 new bikes kept inside.

The bicycles are top-of-the-line, 16-speed road bikes which were sold to the alternative program at a significant discount by Mountain Works. 

“It is a life changer. It motivates people to be here,” said Luis Miramontes, a student at the alternative school. “It gives us confidence.”

Wilton is amazed at how quickly his students have picked up the fine points of endurance cycling because they had been unfamiliar with it. 

“Their learning curves have been astronomical,” Wilton said.

Wilton and Jim Mollerstrom, a contracted consultant and program trainer for the La Grande School District, co-wrote the grant application for the new program, which started a month ago. 

The program is similar to one Wilton and Swinn operated for 12 years while running Step Up, the alternative school at Roseburg High School. Wilton saw that endurance cycling program make a major difference in the lives of his students.

“It gave the students a reason to feel good about themselves,” Wilton said. “For the first time in their lives, they felt like they were part of a team.”

The LHS alternative students are now training for a 150-mile ride along the Oregon Coast Wilton and Swinn will lead them on. 

Training for the coast ride is tightening the bonds the students have for each other. 

“They have come together, they are taking care of each other on the road, looking out for each other’s safety,” Wilton said. 

Wilton emphasizes that if not for help from people from the La Grande area, the program would not be a reality.

“Without the help of this community all of this likely never would have happened,” he said.