Those of you who know me and have been visiting the site for a while know that I try to spend as much time riding with my 8 year-old daughter. Ari’s getting better by the day, but there is only so much I can do for her when we are out on the trail and I think it is critical that she ride with other kids (girls) her age to see that some of the stuff she’s hesitant to ride can be done and is ridden by kids just like her.

I searched far and wide for a program near the DC area where I could take her this summer but my attempts fell short. There is a great weekly ride in one of our local trails (Wakefield Park,) but my work schedule often prohibits me from getting there by the time the ride rolls out. The closest summer camp I did find was the Charlottesville Bike Camp in Charlottesville, Virginia, but she fell short of the age requirement (12 years old) and was likely not physically or technically ready for spending so much time (a full week) away form us alone.

The next best thing that popped up in my searches was the Little Bellas Camp at the Catamount Family Center in Williston, VT, just outside Burlington.

The prospect of getting in the car for nearly 10 hours wasn’t that enticing, but I really wanted my daughter to enjoy some quality riding and be exposed to other kids her age having fun on bikes. After researching the program and realizing it was founded and developed by pro cyclist Lea Davison and her sister Sabra I decided to pull the trigger and signed her up for the two day camp that coincided with the 3rd stop of the ProXCT Finals Mountain bike races. If anything, we would at least experience and witness first-hand some of the best mountain bike riders in the country competing for the national title.

The trip turned out to be quite the adventure for my daughter and her friend Marie. She was super excited to spend the night in a few hotels and swim in the indoor pools; We did not know what to really expect from the camp, other than she would be one of a group of about a dozen girls on bikes.

The Little Bellas Camp is more than just about riding, their focus is not to churn out little racers; instead, the program is aimed at showing girls 7-14 the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, goal-setting, and building teamwork. All of it using mountain biking as the “fun” vehicle to build strong bonds with each other. Their hope is to ensure that the girls remain with the sport beyond their teenage years.

Once we arrived it was clearly evident that the experience would be a positive one – you just got a good vibe from the group of women who would be the girls’ mentors for the next two days. They immediately welcomed the girls and set them up with a few gifts, including a very nice Jersey to wear during the time at the center. I really can’t speak specifically to the activities they did during the day, but all I know is that by the time I picked my daughter up in the afternoon she couldn’t wait to come back the next day. She quickly proclaimed that “NOW, I really love mountain biking daddy!” and that she wanted to ride in the next morning’s Kid Race.

She raved about meeting Specialized Pro rider Lea Davison (founder of Little Bellas with her sister Sabra) and Canadian Olympian and World Champion cyclist Catharine Pendrel. She went on an on about how exciting the day had been. Seeing her riding the teeter (below) and the pump track by the parking area was also an indication of how far she progressed in one day; I’m certain that had we tried the teeter before the program, she would most certainly not have attempted it…

Ari on the Teeter

Ari on the Teeter

The next day we woke early so that she could ride in the kids race and see part of the junior races. By noon, after a quick lunch, we dropped the girls off again for the second day of camp, which included a few more activities and cheering on the women pro riders as they finished the day’s racing and culminated with the entire group of Little Bellas participating in the awards ceremony. Making the girls part of such a “big” event certainly left its mark and Ari is already excited about the prospect of coming back next year for another go at the camp.

I can’t give these group of women enough accolades. In just two days my daughter’s confidence on the bike has soared. She has a long way to go, but the exposure to the pro athletes, the other Little Bellas, and the positive influence of women role models has done far more than I could have in months. Seeing her smile at the end of a full day of biking, and being proud of winning the “most muddy” award made the nearly ten hour drive up to Vermont, and then back to VA totally worth it.

We’ll be back; see you in 2014 Bellas…

More on the Little Bellas

Chaos with purpose for Little Bellas