Ella is one of the middle school girls I have had the pleasure of coaching this fall on the Cactus Shadows High School Mountain Bike team. Ella missed the first month of the season because she was vacationing in Canada (lucky!). When she returned to the blazing Arizona heat, the other kids had already spent a month building their endurance and acclimating to the temperatures. I remember riding past Ella and her Dad during her first ride with the team, she was a few miles in and she was not having it! Her Dad told her she had to practice for two weeks and then if she still wanted to she could quit. On her third practice she crashed on a sketchy descent into an eroded corner. With a few bumps and bruises she cried for the rest of the practice as she walked and rode her bike back the trailhead with one of the other coaches. Soon two weeks came and went and Ella was still practicing with us. Not only was she practicing with us, but she was excelling.
It has been so much fun watching her improve week over week. First her bike handling skills improved, then she quickly mastered using clipless pedals, next her endurance started increasing and her climbing skills continue to advance. When the first race was upon us I was confident in Ella and I knew she would do well…she has a competitive spirit and a will to win like no other (I think she gets it from her Dad)! Though she was very nervous, Ella took first place in her racing debut!
In addition, to celebrating Ella’s athletic ability and improvement I also want to recognize the traits that make her such a joy to be around. Ella has an enthusiasm for learning, I always smile when she talks to me about what she is learning in school or points out geographical features in the desert that she recently learned about. This enthusiasm has carried over to mountain biking as well and has been a big reason for her success, she works hard to master drills and eagerly listens to advice from her coaches. More importantly Ella one of the most encouraging and caring cyclists I have ever ridden with. While I know she is competitive and wants to focus on her own training, she always makes sure new riders are comfortable and encouraged. Two middle school girls joined the team after Ella and she quickly took them under her wing, providing loads of encouragement and instruction, sometimes doing my job for me! It has been so sweet to watch!
Coaching Ella and her teammates has been so rewarding and refreshing. I love seeing the bonds created between these young women as they ride together week in and week out. It often reminds me to be grateful for the relationships I have formed with my own teammates. I hope that the girl that receives a bike in Ella’s honor will grow to have Ella’s eagerness to learn and improve and I pray that she will have friends like Ella there to laugh with her, encourage her and look out for her along the way.