Mountain biking is a fast-growing school sport, and it's thriving despite the ongoing pandemic.
In Chula Vista, California, some students are learning to conquer challenges on and off the trails.
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association, or NICA, said student participation in mountain biking is up 12% this year, with 31 leagues in 30 states.
Coaching has increased 18%, with more adults wanting to get involved during the pandemic.
"A lot of people across the country want to see this and so we're just seeing explosive growth,” said NICA president Steve Matous.
He said mountain biking is a great outlet for the mental and emotional health of kids, especially this year.
A typical race weekend turns into a giant social event for students and their families. This year, leagues have had to modify, holding time-trials without spectators, but riders are still getting out on their bikes.
"On the actual trails you can social-distance a lot too. If you're passing people, usually it's just for a second or two,” said senior Joey Colarusso.
School mountain biking doesn't cut anyone from the team and students aren't required to compete.
"It is for the most disciplined athlete who wants to qualify for varsity or be on podium for their respective race, all the way to the other end where we have riders who simply want to get on their bike and ride on a trail with their teammates,” said Carmen Luna, team director for Eastlake High School and South Bay Composite.
NICA has increased participation among girls and is looking to reach new riders in urban areas. Organizers said you don't need an expensive bike and there's help from local scholarships and corporate sponsors like TREK.
"We want to make sure that mountain biking is accessible to the widest range of people as possible,” said Eric Bjorling, TREK Bicycle’s director of brand marketing and public relations.
Coaches said it's about building life skills like tenacity, resilience, and self-confidence that riders will carry with them long after high school.
TREK donates $10 to NICA from every mountain bike sold. Local shops often make matching donations and there are loaner programs in some areas for kids who need bikes.