No Brakes—NYC’s afterschool Star Track stuck in high gear

  
  


No Brakes—NYC’s After-School Star Track Program is Fixed in High Gear!
By Andrea W. Doray
 
What would you do if:
 
Kids take a spin at Star Track to try cycling as an afterschool program. (Photo by Chung Leung Lai)
Kids take a spin at Star Track to try cycling as an afterschool program. (Photo by Chung Leung Lai)
1. You are a former Olympic and World Masters Road Champion cyclist living in New York City,
2. You served with the Circle of Olympians in New York City’s effort to host the 2012 Olympics, and,
3. You are asked by the Sports and Education committee to set up a children’s cycling program to support the bid?
 
If you are Deirdre Murphy Bader, you create the Star Track afterschool cycling program. Currently in its eighth year of reaching out to youth who could not otherwise participate, Star Track helps these kids spark new friendships, build confidence, and develop pride in their own accomplishments.
 
“It’s like the cocoon opening to reveal the butterfly,” says Deirdre, “watching these kids get their wings.” From a New York City Parks afterschool program that bussed children to the Star Track home velodrome in Queens, the program has blossomed into an in-demand program with a waiting list. “I wish we could work with all these kids,” says Deirdre. “With more kids we also need more velodromes, more bikes, and more daylight!”
 
“I feel good when I reach a goal.” Asha, age 9
“I participate in Star Track because I like always having a goal to reach and I feel good once I've reached it. I really like the ‘get out of your saddle’ drill and riding in the pace lines. If people like working hard and biking, they should go with Star Track because it’s about working hard, testing your skills, and having fun. I've learned that when you pass a slower rider, it's your responsibility to make sure you don't collapse down the track…that’s what caused most of my earlier accidents! I also learned that you’re not supposed to put your fingers in the holes on the bleacher seats because once a kid did it, and they had to use soap and water to pull him out. It took at least 10 minutes.”
 
Self-confidence, goal setting, teamwork
Star Track is officially known as a youth cycling and mentorship program with a goal to teach New York City’s children self-confidence, goal setting, and teamwork through the sport of track racing. These young participants also benefit from mentoring, discussions with guest speakers, and training to become part of a competitive cycling team.
 
Star Track follows the regulations and guidelines of NYC’s parks system, although there are few restrictions around the kids who can participate in the program. “We’d like the children to be at least 53 inches in height,” Deirdre says, “because of the size of our track bicycles.” Participants are also strongly encouraged to know to ride a bike already. “Track bikes have no brakes,” explains Deirdre. “Even kids who know how to ride a bicycle start out with some challenges getting on and off the track bikes.”
 
However, even a young student, Stephanie Torres, age 13, who had never ridden any kind of bicycle and was scared of the track bike, became passionate about the sport of track racing. “Stephanie worked hard and trained hard,” says Deirdre. “Last year, at age 16, she became the youngest person ever to medal at Collegiate Nationals. This year, she's hoping to qualify for the US Junior World Team.” Deirdre adds: “Not only is she a great athlete, she’s also a great student.”
 
“I’ve learned to think quickly on the track.” Daniel, age 16
“Riding with Star Track provides me the opportunity to stay fit and allows me to perform better when I race. I also like the coaching and the fact that you never lose touch with the fundamentals of the sport. I've learned to be a safer rider and to think quickly on the track, as a more seasoned rider, the hardest thing I've learned is how to pace myself in a race."
 
Making the commitment
The Star Track program is full of these success stories, in part because Deirdre and the other coaches look for participants who will make the commitment. “Our Kissena Velodrome in Queens is not all that accessible to many participants in the program,” explains Deirdre, “especially some of students who commute from the Bronx who ride two or three subways and then catch a bus or two to get here.”
 
If the participants progress through their safety instruction, pass their tests, and continue to make it to the training sessions, they receive a Star Track uniform: gold and white and green jerseys and cycling shorts. (Participants are required to wear helmets, too.)
 
The Star Track program has 85 riders this semester—the most ever for one semester in this year-round program. Year-round? We all saw the photos of the snow in New York… “The students use the Kissena Velodrome in the spring, summer, and fall semesters. During the winter, Asphalt Green, one of the program’s partners, dedicates one of its indoor spin gyms in Manhattan for the kids who can make it there,” says Deirdre. “Now, the Team can continue training indoors on state-of-the art spin bikes. The children are always excited to maintain the friendships they have made at the velodrome.
 
“I like to race against the coach!” Laszlo, age 12
“I joined Star Track because I really like racing and riding the track bikes because they're different than regular bikes. The hardest thing I’ve learned is how to get my foot into the clips while riding. The best thing I’ve learned is how to be safe when riding and racing…I’ve also learned how to race against the coach!”
 
Partnerships, sponsorships, adoptions
Star Track also partners with the City of New York Parks & Recreation departments and the City Parks Foundation, as well as Asphalt Green. However, Star Track is not financially supported by the City and relies on donations. “Although we work under the auspices of the NYC Parks and Recreation Department, we are not funded by the Department,” says Deirdre. All the funds for Star Track are privately raised, and the funds raised go directly to Star Track.”
 
Deirdre adds that the program also looks to other ways to raise money, such as through their Adopt-A-Bike program, as well as tax-deductible donations. (Check with your accountant about the tax matters.) Deirdre says Fuji helps them get track bikes for a reasonable expense, and Lazer helps supply the helmets.
 
“Some types of bikes purposely don’t have brakes!” Parker, age 11
“We learned about Star Track a few years ago when we were passing the Kissena Velodrome and saw the Star Track program in session. The thought of a bike without brakes was weird and exciting. When I was old enough and tall enough to ride the 43-inch bikes, I signed up, and the famous "white bike" was still available for Rory when she started!”
 
Rory, age 8
"If people want to join Star Track, I would tell them that some types of bikes purposely don’t have brakes, and not only is that funny, but a thrill to ride! We would tell them about the different races, the meaning of the lines on the track, and some skills they would need to do well on a race.”
 
Volunteers spell success
Volunteers play a big role in the success of the Star Track program. These volunteers assist with coaching, help with safety, nutrition, and bicycle maintenance instruction, and serve as guest speakers. “Evelyn Stevens came to Star Track’s inaugural indoor training session at Asphalt Green," Deirdre says. “Evie was full of tales about the pro peleton and our team members asked questions about what it’s like to be a professional cyclist.”
 
“The parents cheer for us when we race.” Brandon, age 9
"My most favorite parts of Star Track are the track itself, riding a fixed-gear bike, the other participants, and the parents that cheer for us when we race. I learned in Star Track that cycling is a serious sport. I also learned the rules and regulations of cycling. Cycling is an amazing sport and Star Track is a terrific program to learn the sport of cycling. The hardest thing I’ve learned is how to ride a fixed-gear racing bike with no brakes and how to pedal that type of bike in order to stop. The funniest thing I learned is that I can do something that my dad can’t!”
 
Riding into the future
Deirdre says, “The Star Track program gives kids a voice in their learning and training, and because the participants vary in ages, backgrounds, and neighborhoods, they create friendships and bonds that otherwise would not occur.”
 
As Deirdre looks to the future for Star Track, she says that resources and volunteers will become even more important: “We’d like to expand to road riding and use the great trails in our city parks,” she says. Also on her Star Track wish list is a larger physical plant for maintaining the bicycles, and added educational components.
 
“When you fall down, you get back up.” Bobbi, age 14
“I have asthma. Before I started riding for Star Track, I was always in and out of the emergency room. My doctor told me to do something to build my lungs, so my Mom and Dad introduced me to cycling. I was scared at first but wanted to try. My first experience on the track bike was weird: there were no brakes! I enjoy my parents and friends cheering me on. I like to cheer my friends on, too. I learned teamwork. I also learned that when you fall, you get back up. When my doctor asked me what have I been doing to stop my asthma, I said I ride track bikes; he said keep it up, your lungs are great.”
 

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Why has Deirdre continued on (eight years and counting) as the executive director of a program that was established as part of bid to woo decision makers for the 2012 Olympics? Deirdre says simply, “I want to give back to the sport that gave me so much.”
 
Deirdre calls her work for the children her passion: “Most of these kids don’t identify with more mainstream sports. If bicycle racing speaks to one child as it spoke to me, it’s a life-altering experience for both of us.”
 

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About the author: Andrea Doray is a Denver-based writer/rider who finished second in her class in her one and only race—as the last bike across the line. She completely sympathizes with Asha’s friend because she also once got her fingers caught in the holes on the bleacher seats.
 


This Article Published June 29, 2011 For more information contact: