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With New Bike Fleet, Lander Middle School Rides Toward “Fitness For a Lifetime”
Physical education teachers at Lander Middle School are designing a curriculum that gives kids free access to mountain bikes. To make that happen, they needed bikes—and they turned to the LOR Foundation for help.
Fifteen years ago, nearly half of kids between six and 12 played a team sport; today, just over a third do. Middle school presents a particularly precipitous drop in participation: According to a recent study by the Aspen Institute, most kids quit organized sports between 10 and 13, especially in lower-income communities where it can be challenging for families to find the time and resources organized sports require. Moreover, not every soccer, basketball, or volleyball player excels at the high school level, fewer play varsity, and fewer still play their favorite sports in college and beyond. The result: As kids age, their physical activity often decreases.
Physical education teachers in Lander picked up on this trend a few years ago, and went looking for a solution in alternative physical activities. After researching programs at other schools and considering Lander’s natural landscape, Lander Middle School’s PE teachers Chris Babb, Jordan Cooper, and Buddy Red Bow had an idea: With more than 400 miles of accessible mountain bike trails in Lander and a growing riding scene, why not create a school program that encourages kids to learn a new sport that they can participate in their whole lives?
“One of our foundational concepts, our ultimate goal, is fitness for a lifetime,” Cooper says.
The PE teachers began shaping a mountain bike program in 2020, at which point they reached out to the Lander Cycling Club for guidance. One clear problem at the time was a lack of resources: Many kids in Lander don’t have access to mountain bikes, so the school realized it would have to secure a fleet. That’s when staff at the Lander Cycling Club introduced the teachers to the LOR Foundation.
“Given the robust mountain bike culture in Lander and the need for kids to build life long skills on the trail, it was clear the teachers at Lander Middle School had identified an important community solution,” says Ami Vincent, the LOR Foundation’s Lander community officer. “I’m excited to see where this project takes our middle schoolers.”
LOR ultimately made a $17,100 grant to help the Lander Cycling Club purchase 28 mountain bikes—Trek Marlins and Specialized Talons of various sizes—from local bike shops, which were then delivered to the Lander Middle School. The funds were also used to purchase helmets and other safety equipment to support the program.
The PE teachers received the bikes in June 2022, after COVID-19-related supply chain issues delayed the order. And as kids returned to school in August, the school created a curriculum for students aged 10 to 14. In the fall, Cooper taught an eight-week road safety class, in which students learned how to repair bikes, peddled through Lander neighborhoods, and studied rules of the road. While the lessons vary based on age and ability, Cooper says they want kids to learn essential skills of bike mechanics—like fixing a flat, and repairing a chain—while also learning trail etiquette and road safety so they can navigate Lander safely. And to encourage kids to explore on their own, students can use the bikes outside of school hours.
The bikes have been so popular among kids, Babb says, that the middle school launched an outdoor recreation club this fall. As part of the effort, he plans to take students to local trails including Johnny Behind the Rocks when the snow melts.
“We’re hoping to spark some interest,” Cooper says. “We want to give them the confidence to excel on the trail.”
That confidence could be a game changer for kids—not just because they may develop a life-long hobby, but also because they’ll be able to explore their community in ways they hadn’t before. “Biking provides freedom,” says Ami McAlpin, executive director of the Lander Cycling Club. “Being able to explore neighborhoods, park systems, and having that opportunity to transport yourself from space to space is empowering.”
The program is particularly empowering for kids who don’t have bikes at home, marking an equitable step in helping kids explore Lander’s natural resources. It will also help kids stay active long beyond when their traditional playing days might have ended, ensuring they don’t have to retire early.
Pedal on, Lander!
To learn more about Lander’s bike network, or to support other cycling initiatives in town, visit Lander Cycling Club for more information.Learn More
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A former librarian, Ami has long been energized by connecting people to essential resources. She loves to listen and dig deeper into what her community actually needs. Whether that’s information, a grant, or an introduction to other support systems, Ami… Meet Ami
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