Lori Harward: The Driving Force Behind Utah’s High School Mountain Biking (NICA) League
Everything about Lori Harward exudes enthusiasm, passion and commitment, especially her involvement in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). After only meeting her once briefly at a press conference about NICA I knew I wanted to talk with her more in depth because her gusto was infectious… A few short emails later and she had eagerly agreed to meet me for lunch and discuss her current role within NICA as, Utah League Director.
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) “is the National Governing Body for grades 9-12 interscholastic mountain biking. NICA provides leadership, governance and program support to promote the development of Interscholastic Mountain Biking Leagues throughout the United States.” Under NICA‘s governing body, high schools within a state can have mountain biking teams that compete with each other on a collegiate level.
It was this mission statement along with other visions of NICA that truly inspired Lori. She had been a road and mountain biking coach for over 5 years, and a biking enthusiast and racer for most of her life when she heard about NICA. At the USAC coaches summit in October of 2010 she met a coach from the Southern California NICA League and learned enough about the organization to realize she could take it to her home state: Utah. Once she was back in Utah she quickly got her coaching license and started a team at Bingham High. It didn’t take long for parents and supporters within the Bingham community as well as the greater Salt Lake community to start asking Lori how they too could become involved in such a great organization. With support and encouragement growing steadily she realized this idea could really grow so she looked into what it would take to start an official league in Utah. There were many components that needed to be completed before anything could move forward, but Lori was committed and saw the project through. In June of 2011 Lori submitted the final piece; the bid for the Utah League, which was a comprehensive collection of information including everything from racer demographics to race maps and even parking for events! The bid was approved and the Utah League became official within a month or two and will begin in the high schools in September of 2012.
According to Lori, all of her work was made possible by the clear, and accessible steps from NICA. Everything a potential coach, director or volunteer needs to know is right on the website with easy-to-follow instructions. This concept is outlined in one of NICA’s mission statements which states that “NICA is more than just a governing body, it provides direct League, event, coach, team and rider support including defined programs, education, licensing and insurance” (nationality.org). Everything from risk management to the race timing system is under the NICA umbrella, making it so that potential coaches do not have to start from the beginning when they want to get started. This was a huge plus for Lori as she pursued the League, there was never a time that she felt like she was being left to recreate the wheel.
Not only does Lori have continuous logistical support from NICA, she also finds herself continually in agreement with the organizations visions, goals and overall mission. She told me about NICA’s scoring system, which is one-of-a-kind on the high school level, incorporating both the boys and girls scoring together to create one overall total. This type of equality means every person on the team has the potential to contribute points. Lori also loves how NICA works to instill important morals in participating student athletes. For example, the Utah League vision states that NICA wishes to “enable every Utah team to strengthen body, mind and character through cycling.” And Lori could not agree with this idea more! Coming from a fitness background herself, she supports the notion that teaching kids at a young age to appreciate outdoor, physical activities, will inspire them to be more physically fit throughout their life.
Toward the end of lunch I asked Lori about some of her “best moments” since being involved with NICA. She smiled and had two words for me, “so many”. She reiterated how personally invested she was in NICA and its visions, but then she also talked about how amazing people within local communities have been. She explained how since she began toying with the idea of starting a League in Utah, community members and parents have been coming up to her, asking how they can help and what they can do to be involved. In most cases people have come to her, she hasn’t even had to ask for any help. She told me a story about how the Parks and Recreation branch of the government of a Salt Lake City suburb enthusiastically agreed to pay for students within the community to participate in the League if they could afford a bike. There definitely seems to be natural community growing around Lori Howard and the NICA Utah League.
Come September 2012 we will see high school mountain biking throughout the state of Utah and we can thank Lori Harward, her enthusiasm and the NICA organization for making it happen. If you would like to learn more about NICA, which states already have a league or how you can help with the local League please visit the NICA website or contact Lori directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Article by Stephanie Tomlin
Other NICA Chapter Leagues & Project Leagues:
Editor’s Note: This year students who participate in NICA were given a survey and in the survey 98% said they see themselves continuing to ride for life. Their parents who were also surveyed also felt their child would ride for life. As the NorCal League itself is the first league and they are only 10 years old, they yet don’t have statistics with past participants. NICA is striving to keep track of past particpants and while they do know that some kids have gone on to pro racing in either mountain biking or road cycling, they would also like to know if the other alumini are in fact, continuing to ride.