Avout Racing Junior COY 2021

Meet 2021 Junior Club of the Year: Avout Racing

By: Jim Rutberg  March 03, 2022

Denver’s Avout Racing Junior Program has quadrupled since the start of COVID.

Many organizations are undermined by their own success, unable to scale resources to deliver services that meet escalating demand. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Avout Racing had a strong junior program with about 50 riders in the Denver Metro area. By summer, the number of juniors coming to rides and training sessions doubled. And just a year later, the 2021 USA Cycling Junior Club of the Year heads into the 2022 season with four junior programs serving more than 200 boys and girls between the ages of 2 and 18. When the opportunity for success presented itself, Avout Racing was ready for it.

About Avout Racing

Avout Racing started out as a Denver area Masters Mountain Bike and Cyclocross team in 2013. The team was competitive and successful, and in 2016 a group of kids and their parents came looking for a more structured approach to junior cycling. Avout Racing’s junior program began informally, mainly the team riders taking kids out to play on mountain bikes. When those kids started winning races, interest in the club increased, and those afternoon mountain bike rides swelled with more kids on bikes.

Fast forward to the spring of 2020. The team had added some structure to the junior program, with administration roles and USA Cycling certified coaches. But no one was ready for COVID. The club delayed the start of spring practices until mid-June. They used the time to work with other local junior cycling programs and consult with health agencies and local officials to create COVID protocols that would allow for small group practices with kids and coaches organized in separate cohorts. The surge in interest for cycling hit soon after, doubling the junior club membership from the previous season.

Jessica Mullins was at the helm of the organization during the tumultuous period. A long-time club member, she was hired as Avout Racing’s Executive Director in 2019. Following a career highlighted by roles as a structural engineer, math teacher, and market research analyst, Jessica was looking for a transition around the time the club was formalizing its status as a 501C3 non-profit. As Executive Director, she led a visioning process in the fall of 2020 to align the organization to the needs of a much wider range of young cyclists.

Junior Cycling for All

To keep kids engaged and to make the club as welcoming as possible for new riders, Avout Racing created four programs within the junior club. Inspire Juniors Strider and Early Pedal introduce the joy of riding balance and pedal bikes to kids aged 2-6. The Inspire Juniors Rec program focuses on kids aged 6 and older who want to get together to ride with peers, have fun, and gain skills and confidence. This is the group that grew the most in 2020 and 2021. Kids aged 9 and older with the urge to train and compete seasonally are welcomed in the Academy and Academy+ programs. And riders aged 13 and older who want to train year-round and successfully compete on a regional and national level can apply to the Selects program.

“Our goal is to build a bridge from the littlest cyclist to the most competitive cyclist, and have a path for anyone to follow,” commented Mullins. “A rider could follow a path that’s super race-focused and competitive, or one that’s focused on riding bikes for fun with friends. As we grew, we realized we have the bandwidth to support both the race-focused and recreationally-focused kids and really achieve our mission of more kids on bikes, at any and all levels.”

Equity Efforts

With the help of sponsors (including Inspire Orthodontics and Marczyk Fine Foods) and program fees, the organization created a scholarship program to lower the financial barriers to participation, including the costs of program fees, equipment, or race entry fees. Rebranding the junior recreation group as Inspire Juniors was also intended to reflect the organization’s appeal to all riders, not just racers. “We really hope in the next couple of years to go beyond scholarships,” said Mullins. “It’s one thing to offer a scholarship, but if a kid doesn’t have transportation to get to bike practice, that’s a huge missing link.”

Developing Good Athletes and Great People

On the competitive side, Avout Racing riders and alumni frequently stand on the podium at regional and national level events. In 2021, riders from the junior and senior/masters teams achieved 273 podium results, including 14 Colorado State Championships and 3 National Championships. Kira Mullins, Jessica’s daughter, won the Mountain Bike National Championships for Cross-Country Mountain Bike, Short Track, and Cyclocross in the Junior Women 13-14 age group.

Whether an athlete is in a Race or Recreation program, all riders are taught “The Five Respects”: Respect yourself. Respect your teammates. Respect your coach. Respect the environment. Respect your equipment.

Respecting the environment includes being a good steward of the trail system and ecosystem, as well as being a respectful trail user in the community. “Education is a big part of our program. We teach all of our juniors The Five Respects because we want to build not just good cyclists but also good humans,” said Mullins.

With 39 coaches and more than 200 cyclists under the age of 18, Avout Racing scaled up and diversified their programming to welcome an influx of juniors to the sport of cycling. Riding a bike as a kid – whether you compete or play on bikes – creates a cyclist for life, and that’s good news for all of us.