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Meet Julie Childers

Julie is this month's MEET THE COACH feature! Julie is not only a legendary NICA coach, she also co-founded Trails for Youth, an organization whose mission is to provide opportunities for children to explore biking trails in and around Washington, D.C.

Each month we'll interview an outstanding coach from our NICA community.
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Name: Julie Childers
Pronouns: She/her
League: Maryland
Team: Trailblazers
Number of years as a coach: 20+ years!
Number of years riding: Decades! Since she was a kid


Tell us a little bit about yourself! Why did you become a NICA coach? 

My group (TrailsforYouth.Org) copied NICA’s model locally before there was a league in our area, specifically to give at-risk youth an opportunity to experience mtb races in the DC-metro area. We recognized that (after years of programming) providing another kind of mountain biking experience helped to increase the overall health and wellness of the youth in our program, especially those that wanted that next challenge. 

Then we heard about NICA, and kept our eye out to help grow the effort here in the Mid-Atlantic. The first league we participated in was Viriginia, and we worked with our board president Jen Raab, to help form the NOVA Composite Team, which still competes and is coached by Jen and Stefan Raab. Then the Maryland league was formed, and we happily lent our assistance to Jon Posner and Fred Powell to help. 

What keeps you coaching with NICA? What’s the best part about coaching with NICA?

We are thrilled to still be participating in the Maryland league and I personally am thrilled to say we have always had a near 50/50 mix of girls and boys in our team, which I think is so fantastic. We have known for a long time that as the kids overcome obstacles [on the bike], they are immensely proud of their accomplishments and that increase in self-esteem carries into their daily lives. As the riders overcome challenges – physical, mental or emotional, whether competing or riding – they visibly stand prouder for their accomplishments, and that gives me faith and keeps me going. That’s why I coach!

What’s your favorite NICA game?

TrailsforYouth.Org does a thing we call “Barrel Racing” where we split teams up based on skills and set up a super short circular course 50 yards or less and they race one-on-one, at the exact opposite spot of each other. It’s a great event that practices so many race skills: starting, cornering, finishing strong. It also highlights team skills, cheering on your teammate, comforting them when they don’t win, helping them prepare, and strategizing. It’s one of the kids’ favorite events to do, it’s easy to set up, and pays big benefits!

Favorite NICA moment?

I have had so many great moments in the last 20+ years, just seeing NICA being so strong makes me happy. My husband and I have been putting youth on bikes for over 25 years and it’s great to know it will continue long after we are gone.  If I had to choose a favorite NICA moment, it’s almost always what’s happening right now. Mariana and Aline have been best friends since they were little girls. Aline joined TrailsforYouth.Org back in 2015 and then she got her best friend in the program. They are now in two different high schools, but when they get on the bikes together, you see that their friendship endures.  Aline is our team captain this year and she is helping mentor Mariana to become captain next year.  It’s awesome to watch their growth and friendship as they encourage each other to improve, even as they compete in the same category.

What’s your best coaching pro-tip?

I think that some of the strongest moments are off the bike, especially after riding when all the stress and frustration of the day has been sweated out and minds are clearer. So I’d say look for the conversational moments and celebrate the little victories. 

I often explain to the younger, newer riders to bend their legs and elbows and tell them that the tenser they are, the more the bumps travel up and hurt, so stay loose and try and flow with the bumps. Then I compare it to life: like when you get a pop quiz, or your little brother/sister just ate the last bite of your favorite food! Getting tense doesn’t help – just take a breath, stay loose, and move forward over the small bumps so you can continue onto the flat and enjoy the ride. They think I’m hokey, but it does help to get them to open up, let me know about a tough quiz, frustrating class, or project, etc. Then we can talk about why it’s tough or frustrating – just general conversation and being there to listen. 

It’s amazing how many of the youth participating in our program are shy or have language barriers in our case. I always look to simply chat with them which helps their personal development, then I celebrate their little victories, making it up a hill or over an obstacle, or passing a test at school. It’s the constant support that contributes to their improvement, and – as we say at TYO – helps them overcome obstacles on the trail and in life. 

I think that some of the strongest moments are off the bike, especially after riding when all the stress and frustration of the day has been sweated out and minds are clearer. So I’d say look for the conversational moments and celebrate the little victories. 
Julie Childers

What’s one piece of advice you have for NICA student-athletes?

Our youth have so many things to worry about – the usual pressures of school, family, teen and pre-teen struggles, etc. – and so many of them also have food or financial insecurities. Sometimes simply having a pair of sneakers for biking is a stressor. I try to convey to them that they are not alone, there are people who care and can help and it’s ok to ask for help.

Often, during down time, I hear of frustrations in school, and I ask if they have talked to the teacher or asked for additional help, and they often do not consider that as an option. I tell them asking for help is self-advocating and can build inner strength, and I remind them that they didn’t think they could compete in a race either, yet here they are doing it. I also tell them to find joy in their efforts: for one student that may be podiuming, for another that may be simply finishing a lap. By finding that sweet spot of effort and enjoyment, the student has already won and learned an invaluable life lesson.

Anything else you’d like to share with the NICA community?

I have been putting kids on bikes for 25 years and every year I look back knowing I make a difference. I don’t necessarily feel that way every day however (especially after loading and unloading 15 bikes for the 4th time in a day!) and that’s ok. Just remember, you’re not doing this alone, and you are making a difference (and don’t forget to ask for help). I know we have made a difference, because kids from long ago are adults now, and many of them are still part of my life all these years later. And many of them have come back to help mentor some of the new kids, and they tell me it made a difference in their lives and still does. It doesn’t get any better than that. Keep the faith.

Thanks to Julie for sharing her story and her decades of impact and experience with youth!

If you're a Maryland coach and you see Julie around, be sure to say “hi” and connect.
Learn more about Trails for Youth and follow their team updates on Facebook!