Jaylssa Terry and Deedee Martines aren’t racing for Olympic gold, and they don’t dream of one day donning a yellow jersey at the Tour de France. They’re just out for fun.
The two soon-to-be sixth-graders — Terry at Oneida Middle School and Martines at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons — are part of a girls’ cycling team sponsored by Plaine and Sons bike shop in Schenectady and Liv Cycling, an international manufacturing company dedicated to bringing the sport to women.
The two girls and at least four others from Schenectady will participate as the Girls Inc.-Liv Bike Team in this Saturday’s 25-mile Mohawk Hudson Cycling Club’s Century Weekend Ride at Saratoga State Park.
“I enjoy riding, and I really enjoy riding for a long period of time,” said Martines, who earlier this summer completed a 20-mile ride. “I play volleyball, but I’ve been doing this for a while now, usually two times a week. It’s fun.”
While Martines is simply happy to finish, Terry concedes she does take things a bit more seriously.
“I try to be the first one finished on our team,” she said. “At some point, it does get a little stressful, but it feels so good to finish. I like sports, but I’ve never really been on a team, so I figured this would be a fun thing to do. It gets tiring sometimes, but I like it.”
The Girls Inc.-Liv Bike Team was formed this spring when Les Plaine, owner of Plaine and Son, got together with Jessica Rowell, then the director of Program Development and Partnerships for Girls Inc. of Schenectady.
“We’ve done a few things with Girls Inc. in the past, and after talking to Jessica we thought creating a team with girls from Girls Inc. would be a good idea,” said Plaine, whose family has run the business since 1945. “So I then bounced the idea off the people at Liv Cycling, and collectively we built the team. It’s a nice, positive program. It’s not a performance-oriented program. It’s inclusive. But if we get any shining stars that emerge from it, we’ll take it.”
The girls meet at least once a week, usually every Wednesday night at Central Park. Cody Rule of Plaine’s serves as the team coordinator and shows up sometimes with as many as 10 bikes for the girls to use. Jessica Mitchell was hired by Plaine’s to serve as the team coach.
“We started in the spring and with Jessica’s help at Girls Inc. we got between eight and 12 girls showing up to learn how to ride,” said Rule, a Schenectady native and 2008 Schenectady High grad who also serves as the head coach for Schenectady County Community College’s women’s rowing team. “Now we have a pretty good nucleus of six girls who show up regularly. We’re giving them the opportunity to try something they might not otherwise try without this program.”
Some of the bicycles the girls train with cost as much as $2,000, according to Rule. The girls range in age from 10 to 15.
“We’re just trying to get them comfortable on the bike, comfortable on the road, and comfortable with their bike-handling skills,” said Mitchell, an Esperance native who now lives in Colonie and runs Power House Athletics on Railroad Avenue in Albany with her husband. “The girls all have their own strengths and different qualities, and when we started we were just introducing them to riding. Now, we’re trying to push them, but just a little bit.”
The Century Ride next weekend at Saratoga State Park will be the third event that the Girls Inc.-Liv Cycling team has participated in.
“They’re not races, they’re rides, usually for some charity,” said Rule. “But our girls have gone 30 miles before, and I’m usually there with them in the van if something happens. Our Plaine’s bike truck has the tools and the spare tires they might need. We do all of that for them.”
Mitchell, who competes as a triathlete, said working with the Girls Inc.-Liv Bike Team was a no-brainer for her.
“It’s a great idea to get these girls involved, and we work a lot with kids in our business. So it just made a lot of sense,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun for me, and it’s great to see them get motivated. We’re going to continue working with them indoors as Plaine’s throughout the winter so I’m looking forward to that.”
Joining Martines and Terry on the team are Olivia Rowell, Amilliana Rodriguez and sisters Saumya and Suchi Mehta.
“We are thrilled to have Plaine’s in our ride, and we’re thrilled that it’s a team for girls,” said Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club president David Liebschutz. “Generally, our club is for people 18 and over, but as you can imagine our organization, like plenty of others, is looking for younger people. Many of us are baby boomers, so we’re always looking for younger people to join up.”
Both Plaine and Liebschutz would love to see more people jump on their bikes to get around. They both remember the late 1980s and early 1990s when cycling enjoyed a wave of popularity and the Capital Region hosted the USA Cycling Nationals, the Tour de Trump, and plenty of other top professional races.
“Those were the days, but there are some positive things going on,” said Plaine. “The fastest-growing segment are commuters, people who ride for transportation purposes. Cycling is coming around, especially with the advent of mountain biking and fat bikes. With these new 5-inch tires you can use them in foul weather, sand and snow.”
As for the Girls Inc.-Liv Bike Team, Rule is hoping to see the program expand.
“It’s a great program, and the value for us is to see cycling grow,” he said. “A lot of sports, like cycling, are considered too exclusive. We want those people who are interested, but might think they can’t afford it, to feel welcomed to the sport. We want to make sure they know there are no barriers to them joining up.
“If we can help them that’s great, and it doesn’t mean they’re going to be an Olympian. If people just want to do it to enjoy the scenery, that’s fine.”
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