Dave Schlabowske
Bike Czar

Teen Bike Racer Inspires

A Milwaukee High School Mountain Bike Team member personifies the spirit of biking.

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - Nov 14th, 2015 05:50 pm
Hodan practicing on the track behind Riverside University High School.

Hodan practicing on the track behind Riverside University High School.

A few weeks ago I went to photograph the Milwaukee High School Mountain Bike Team practice and had the pleasure of meeting an inspiring teen, Hodan Mohamud, 16, the only female student on the team at Riverside University High School. Hodan came to the mountain bike practice directly from swim practice after school. Beyond her infectious smile and impressive work ethic, Hodan demonstrated she is a quick learner, mastering clipless pedals in the 30 minutes she was in practice that day.

While I was there to photograph the whole team, I specifically wanted to meet Hodan because I had heard so much about her from Bill Koch, a member of the Bike Fed’s Board of Directors who has volunteered his time to help launch Milwaukee Public Schools’ high school mountain bike program with Paul Zettel, a teacher at Riverside. Bill had told me that although Hodan finished dead last in her first two races, she kept a smile on her face and kept cheering loudly for her male peers in their respective races.

“And get this,” Bill added, “one day they were riding on the Oak Leaf Trail and she stopped to move a Wooly Bear caterpillar off the trail to safety!”  Since I have done the same thing a number of times on my way to work on the Hank Aaron State Trail, I knew I had to know more about this kid.

Hodan  sent me the the answers to a few questions I emailed her after the final race in the series that weekend at Cascade Mountain:

How did your last race go?

“Cascade mountain was my last race which I found pretty challenging , but at the same time I found more inspiring, because it showed me what I need to improve on for next year.”

How did you hear about high school mountain biking team?

“During my freshman year I joined the school triathlon team, which involves swimming, cycling, and running. I had no problem with swimming since I was in the girls swim team in the fall. Also swimming was a sport that was common in my family. As a kid, running and biking were something that I loved doing. For running, I always used to compete against kids when it was recess time. I like biking because it gives me freedom. I would bike to the park with my siblings for three hours and then come back home. I didn’t technically stop biking and running when I got to middle school, but I put biking on the side so I could focus on going into high school.

When I got to high school I started to practice running and biking as part of the triathlon team. It was pretty tough because I wasn’t in shape. My coaches, Paul and Eli, saw that I was struggling with those two, so they told me to join the Riverside biking club Tuesdays and Thursday and that is when I found Riverside high school had a mountain biking club. I started to attend mountain biking club more often and began to build my endurance up.

At the end of a triathlon we went to beach to celebrate, and that’s when Paul passed out a paper about Mountain Biking 101. That was basically when I found out they had mountain biking team where you actually compete against other bikers.”

Do you have a mountain bike of your own at home?

”Both of my parents are positive, strong, and outgoing. They are always there for me when I need them. The summer of 2015, when I started mountain biking practice with the Milwaukee mountain biking team, my parents got 6 new mountain bikes for all my younger siblings and one for my older sister. Having mountain bike at home is really beneficial because it saves money, gets me places fast, and teaches me how use my time wisely.”

What do you like about the high school mountain bike racing?

Hodan: ”I like a lot of things. For one, you get to meet different type ethnic groups and that makes you a more socialized person. From my own experience, it helps to build my endurance. There also is a lot support, not just from coaches, but from staff, other people at the races, and the parents from my team. You are never alone. There is always someone there for you to help you out, even in the times you don’t believe in yourself. I also like how there are different levels of races and difficulties in the race courses. There is something for everyone to gain from.” (End of our email exchange.)

It does my heart good to hear a teen who has intuitively learned all the benefits I have been touting for the last 17 years as a professional bicycle advocate. That is really what keeps me doing what I do, even when I feel like a salmon swimming upstream. Hodan’s words, smile and work ethic have also inspired her teachers and coaches, like Riverside Health teacher Paul Zettel, who said this:

“This young lady will never stop amazing me. Hodan Mohamud embodies every reason all of us work/play at getting our youth on bikes and riding on a regular bases. What Hodan brings to NICA and Wisconsin High School Cycling is what has motivated me to keep our youth biking growing here in Milwaukee these past 10 years. It’s all about relationships

After reading Hodan Mohamud’s story about her family and how our biking programs affected her and her family, I begin to recognize that it is Hodan and the other teens I work with who inspire me. It is her story that gives me the energy to keep creating and improving opportunities for our teens. Helping them to discover who they are and succeed together through activities like mountain biking, bike touring and triathlon training. Hodan’s story will continue and we can keep being inspired to bringing biking to more young people here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and across America.”

Elizabeth Bart, who volunteers to help coach the mountain bike team and the triathlon team has been similarly inspired by Hodan.

“Hodan is confident and adventurous and will not back down from a challenge. This girl doesn’t have an ounce of quit in her. Over the mountain bike season her knowledge of the sport has grown along with her bike handling skills and fitness.” Eli Bart coaches adult triathletes as well, and said she has observed that Hodan has a healthy, natural competitiveness, not just with mountain biking, but swimming and triathlon as well, which will help her stay athletic throughout her life.”

Hill practice on the grass behind Riverside University High.

Hill practice on the grass behind Riverside University High.

Thanks to the volunteers and teachers at Riverside University High School for inviting me to their practice. Thanks to Hodan for being so open with her answers to my questions. Thanks to Tristan Klein from Coast In Bikes and iSSi for help with the clipless pedals. And of course, thanks to the organizers and sponsors of the Wisconsin High School Cycling League.

I will end this post by saying that Hodan and the rest of the kids at that practice inspired me to work to improve mountain bike access in Milwaukee so they have real trails to practice on. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the follow up post about how we are proposing to improve the access to Milwaukee’s mountain bike trails for the kids in the Milwaukee team and the Shorewood High School Mountain Bike Team too.

This article was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

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