Among the first recipients of a grant are Star Track, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to improve the lives of New York City children through a free program that teaches the fundamentals of track cycling at Kissena Velodrome in Queens.
Founded in 2004, Star Track has introduced thousands of children – many from under-resourced areas of the city – to the joys and benefits of bicycle racing, and has been repeatedly designated a USA Cycling Center of Excellence. Since 2014, Star Track riders have had the opportunity to join a competitive race team, and last year 11 riders earned 14 national championship jerseys between them.
Mike Sandler, Star Track Media Director & Coach, explains how the Rapha Foundation grant will support an ambitious three-step project over the next two years. The organisation’s first goal is to increase participation.
“Due to coaching and program management limitations, participation had plateaued at 100-110 kids in our spring and fall sessions, and 60 kids in summer,” Mike explains.
“We’ll fund coaching, management, community outreach and bicycling equipment to allow us to gradually reach a new total of 130-150 participants by 2022. This increase would come entirely from the group of kids Star Track has long sought out for enrollment, and those who are underrepresented in the sport: female riders, children from low-income, minority and immigrant communities, and neighborhoods with poor access to fitness programs.”
“We have already gone from five up to seven sessions a week at our summer program at Kissena Velodrome. One of these is a new girls-only session, open to new and returning junior riders. We want to encourage younger female riders by providing extra support and track time. The session will feature bike maintenance lessons, mentorship by a junior female coach, and guest female instructors from the local racing community.”
"We want to encourage younger female riders by providing extra support and track time."
“Our first session was a huge success. Unlike our regular structured sessions, we're giving the racers a voice in choosing the training content. We had a mixed group, aged 8-14, and you could see the camaraderie and spirit right away. They chose to "slow race" – a race where there last rider to cross the line without stepping off the pedals wins, giving the kids a chance to practice their trackstanding skills – and had a tremendous amount of fun.”
This isn’t the extent of Star Track’s hopes for female riders on their programs.
“With additional support for outreach provided by the Rapha Foundation, we are also aiming for full 50 percent girl registration for our upcoming fall session which will be a major milestone.”
The second aim is to provide greater competitive opportunities for participating riders. Mike is keen to point out that more race experience means significantly improved performance.
“Race-day travel expenses are a significant barrier to competition for kids from low-income families. While both our after-school program and race team are fee-free, we cannot provide transportation to local and regional races, which means attendance is impossible for many riders,” Mike says.
“Many of our families do not own cars, and even reaching races within New York’s five boroughs can be daunting. We’ve been able to start looking for a van and trailer that will allow more kids to join the race team and compete.”
"We're giving the racers a voice in choosing the training content. You could see the camaraderie and spirit right away."
The final part of the project looks to provide training in the off season.
“Indoor winter training is an underdeveloped aspect of our program – provided sporadically inside a freight container at Kissena’s parking lot for race team members, and non-existent for after-school program participants. More than half of our participants have expressed interest in such training, which is essential for racers to enter the spring season in peak shape. With the help of the Rapha Foundation, Star Track will be able to rent an indoor facility and provide coaching from December through March, a project that will begin in earnest in the fall.”
And with years of experience, Mike is confident. “As New York City’s only youth track cycling program, and a USA Cycling Foundation Center of Excellence with a 15-year history of developing young cyclists, we are well-positioned to undertake this project.”
The Rapha Foundation's mission is to build a better future for the sport of cycling by inspiring, empowering and supporting the next generation of racers. We will provide direct funding to grassroots and not for profit organisations that introduce under-served audiences to the sport. We will champion these organisations and take aspiring racers on a journey from their local park to podiums at the top of the sport. We will do this all over the world.