Sunday , November 05, 2017 - 12:00 AM2 comments
PLAIN CITY — It’s not hyperbolic to say mountain biking changed the lives of Andrew Veldhuizen, Caden Halverson and their respective families — in fact, that might even be an understatement.
The program, established in 2015, allows students with physical or cognitive disabilities to participate fully on their school’s mountain bike team — races and all.
Kids in the program ride the standard race course but have adaptations that meet specific needs, providing a race that challenges the students, but is also appropriate for their abilities. Students in Elevate typically ride with one or two volunteers assisting them.
Veldhuizen, who has a learning disability and is on the Autism spectrum, began the program last year. Ryan Veldhuizen said his son got involved shortly after making cycling strides on his own.
The father-son pair were already riding together but Veldhuizen typically stuck to paved tracks, avoiding loose gravel and dirt routes.
One day after riding the Ogden Parkway, Veldhuizen unexpectedly took to the pump track at the Riverdale Bike Park.
“Last spring, he said, ‘Hey dad look at me’ and he was riding on the dirt and actually doing pretty good and I snapped a picture of him,” Ryan Veldhuizen said. “I was really excited. (I’d) been trying to get him on single track for a long time.”
Ryan Veldhuizen posted the photo of his son on Facebook, where Corner Canyon’s coach saw it and sent him a message with details on the program.
“That was it,” Ryan Veldhuizen said.
Veldhuizen became part of the Fremont squad soon after. Ryan Veldhuizen said the first few practices were hard, but his son demonstrated steady improvement. When he completed his first race last year at Powder Mountain, it was a watershed moment.
“It was pretty emotional for me,” Ryan Veldhuizen said. “I knew the struggles he was having just a few months earlier (and) for him to ride that six miles of that course with all the other riders — I was super, super proud of him.”
The Veldhuizens helped recruit Halverson, who has Autism, to the team this year.
Kirk Halverson said he likes that his son is involved in a sport that he can compete in for the rest of his life. He said the Elevate program is unlike anything he’s seen in high school sports.
“It levels the playing field,” he said. “Nobody can tell what disability level you (have), all they know is what riding level you are.”
Fremont head mountain biking coach Dave Yngsdal said the program harvests “openness and acceptance.” The coach said it’s been gratifying to see the boys’ self-assurance grow with each practice, each race.
“We feel like that confidence rolls into other areas of their life,” Yngsdal said.
Kirk Halverson said being on the team allows his son to be deeply involved in a new community, one Halverson is enthralled with.
“It makes me feel like I’m on a sports team and I could do dangerous stuff,” the Fremont junior said.
Ryan Veldhuizen said the program has “absolutely brought our family together.” The family of four now regularly heads out together on biking excursions through the Northern Utah mountains.
The duo’s season has wrapped up for 2017, but they both expect to compete again next year as seniors.
“I expect to see them back again next year,” Yngsdal said. “I expect they’ll be riding their bikes the rest of their lives.”
You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer.
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