Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Whole Athlete-Specialized Team Wraps Up Most Successful Season Yet

Young Team Comes of Age

In just three seasons the Whole Athlete-Specialized Cycling Team has established itself as one of the most notable junior mountain bike development programs in the country. In addition to earning three Junior 15/16 National Championship titles (Kate Courtney, 2010 & 2011; Lucas Newcomb, 2011), the team has qualified riders to the US World Championship Team for cross country each year thus far (John Bennett, 2009; Zach Valdez, Will Curtis, Tony Smith, Sofia Hamilton, 2010; Keegan Swenson, 2011). Not a bad start for a program just getting its wheels off the ground.

XC Nationals Podium Finishers
2011 Cross Country National Championships podium finishers: Keegan Swenson, Lucas Newcomb, Kate Courtney, Sofia Hamilton, Josie Nordrum & Max Houtzager

Team founder and director Dario Fredrick says it’s a matter of setting the right standards, and the results follow. “Our team philosophy is defined by ‘dedication, integrity and fun’, and when the kids focus on the process rather than the outcome, they find success happens.” Success has indeed been happening for the young team. In 2011 alone, Whole Athlete-Specialized juniors have swept cross country podiums from Fontana to the Sea Otter to the Downieville Classic, and earned 13 junior podium appearances at the National Championships in Sun Valley, ID in cross country, short track and super-D combined.

Sea Otter Podium
Sea Otter Classic podium: (L-R) Tony Smith, Keegan Swenson & Max Houtzager

Yet Fredrick is quick to point out that it's not all about winning. "I emphasize to the kids that it's not necessarily the win that's most important, but the effort that goes into it. As long as each kid does his or her absolute best, that's success in my book." In fact, the program emphasizes much more than just riding bikes fast. True to its name, the Whole Athlete Team promotes a holistic system in which the riders learn about nutrition, sport psychology and yoga, in addition to proper training.

Video interview with Team Director Dario Fredrick about the development program

This year the team expanded to include a few U23 riders. As the young athletes progress through the program, those who are ready to take the next step from the junior ranks have an opportunity to rise to the challenge and compete as pros. But it's a big step at the national level, even for the formerly top juniors. Other than at the National Championships and World Cups where separate U23 races are offered, in ProXCTs the young guns go up against the country's best pros. It's a daunting task for a 19-year-old to start at the back of a 60-rider pro field, but as Fredrick points out, they have to start somewhere. "We don't expect our first year U23s to be competitive at the ProXCT level, but as long as they are making forward progress, that's what cycling development is about."

The program itself has also made steady progress. Having started out as many teams do as a modest endeavor, the Whole Athlete-Specialized Team has evolved into a national player and shows no signs of slowing down. With multi-year commitments from Whole Athlete and Specialized, the non-profit funded program is on track to continue developing national-caliber junior and U23 riders for years to come.

For more information and to learn how you can help support junior cycling development, go to