’Cross For Kid's Sake had its first successful clinic on Saturday © Robbie Carver

By Robbie Carver

’Cross for Kid’s Sake, a Portland ‘cross clinic offered to children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, had its first clinic this past Saturday. The event, sponsored by Veloce Bicycles and Jamis Bicycles, will continue for an additional five sessions, culminating with a race at Krugers Cross on November 20th.

The event, organized by local ’cross racer Bernadette Estrada – herself a Big Sister to one of the participants – is designed to offer kids with few means a chance to not only try out this challenging sport, but learn some life skills, as well. “I wanted to bring to them one of the most difficult things that I do in my life,” said Bernadette. “I want them to get a sense of courage. It’s not the racing, it’s their life. You take everything that goes into ’cross, and apply it to life, that’s what I want for them.”

Jamain enjoys some pre-training power food. © Robbie Carver

Five participants, ranging from 10 to 14 years old, arrived with their Big Brother or Sister early in the morning, ready to try a sport none of them had even heard of before. Waiting for them were a bucket of donated Voodoo donuts, a new jersey and helmet, and, most incredibly, a brand new Jamis Venture Sport bike sporting Kenda ’cross tires. Jamis was able to offer the bikes at a severe discount, well under wholesale, and the Veloce racing team, wanting to do something for their community, pitched in the rest of the funds.

Jamis rep John O’Brien was on hand to help with the bikes and take part in the session. “I really appreciate the generosity of the president of our company, Carine Joannou,” John said. “It’s one of the benefits of working for a family owned company and being able to call the owner directly anytime. She’s all about helping out with programs like this and I hope we can work with Bernadette to ensure its success and grow it over the next few years.”

Louis, the youngest participant, getting a handle on his new Jamis. © Robbie Carver

Before they got on the bikes, however, each participant had to sign a contract saying they would attend each session, race, and take care of and lock up their bikes (locks were also provided). If they did not complete their end of the bargain, they would have to return the bikes. If they make it through the whole clinic, the bikes are theirs to keep. “It’s important for them to learn commitment, and follow through,” said Bernadette. “That’s where the contracts came from.”

On hand to teach them were members of the Veloce team, Eric Sheagley and Beth Burns. Each week, a different set of volunteers will lend their time and experience to teach. Sheagley and Burns led the group through laps in the park, practiced dismounts and remounts, and drills with cones. Throughout, the children were enjoying themselves, concentrating hard and having fun learning how to navigate the grass, roots and trees in the park. “Wow, this is hard,” said Eva. “This is a really nice bike,” said Manika. “I just ran into a tree!” said Alexis.

“Can we get a minute?” said Jemain, after learning the painful consequence of remounting too aggressively.

“This is so great,” said Shelby, one of the Big Sisters, as the group took turns leading each other around the make-shift course. “Manika is such a tomboy. I saw this, and thought, she’s going to love it. I asked her, how do you feel about getting on a bike and playing in the mud? She was totally for it. She’s got a lot of things going on at home, she bears a lot. But that’s made her resilient. Any little thing she comes across, she’s thrilled about. That’s the kind of kid I want to make a difference in.”

Look for a full report on the Cross for Kids Sake clinic in our Winter print issue of Cyclocross Magazine.