My name is Jeffrey Stewart, a proud husband to Genevieve Stewart and a proud father to two boys, Dakota and Aiden. The first 18 years of my life was spent in Middletown, NY where I was both an avid soccer player and a BMX’er. We had a BMX track less than a mile from my house that was run by the local police department. Wednesday’s couldn’t come fast enough every week when the track was open for practice and Sunday’s (when my parents would allow) I would race there. As puberty and teenage years hit, I found less time to ride that BMX bike and more time in a car doing what typical teenagers do. I played soccer throughout and ended up playing in college.
When college came around, I headed up to Boston, MA where I found what I thought would be my forever home. I fell in love with the city of Boston and its culture. Right after college I bought my first mountain bike in 1991. A Cannondale fully rigid bike. Needless to say, the bike bug bit me again and I upgraded to a Cannondale Delta V 1000 so I could keep up with my riding buddies. We ventured all over New England in search of amazing trails. We’d spend weekends on the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire camping and riding.
Fast forward a bit. It came time for our youngest, Aiden, to get ready for high school. We attended the 8th grade walk-through at Cherokee High School and part of the walk-through was all of the clubs available to incoming freshman. And there, low and behold was Carrie Wilbur with a Table for Cherokee Mountain Bike Club. First thing we all said was “We didn’t know there was even a team let alone a league for mountain biking.”
Aiden signed up in May. Kept in touch and attended social rides over the summer and when it came time to sign up for soccer he said to me” Dad, do you think it would be okay if I just did Mountain Bike Team?” That was the beginning of a new era for Aiden. A new passion. He was all in.
Carrie convinced me to get my coaching license so I could at least ride with the team. I had no intention of coaching. I just wanted to ride. I was already rekindling my love for mountain biking right around then as Dakota was going off to college to play soccer in college. I was all in to ride.
Then the coaching bug bit me again as the season progressed. I realized I loved coaching. I loved sharing knowledge, I loved having fun and making the lives of our youth better. And I felt like I was even good at it. It brought my life new meaning and a way to extend a healthy lifestyle. At 52 years old, I feel like I am in the best shape of my adult life because of it.
Then I went to my first Georgia League Race at Road Atlanta. It was life changing. 55 teams a few years back, all in one place, cheering ALL riders: the positivity, the passion, the community was like no other youth sport event. You see, I had battled soccer parents for years for being mean to referees, being hard on their kids, hard on their kids coaches, etc. And everything I ever wanted a youth sport event to be was right there in Road Atlanta Race #1 of the Georgia League. I saw team moms handing out ice cold towels to every rider coming across the finish line. Not just their team but EVERY team. When I saw that, I said, this is where I want to be, this is where I want my kid to be, and this is where I want to invest my time.
Since then I have worked up to a Level 3 coach, got actively involved in races by Course Marshaling every weekend and even had the privilege of serving as a coach for the Rider Development Camp for the past 2 years. When I go to races now, I see amazing kids regardless of what jersey they wear. I see student athletes walking around with other riders from other teams. I see the best in humanity.
As for Aiden, this is his thing. He loves it, cannot wait for it to start again, loves his teammates, the coaches, the camaraderie (And even the awesome food our team makes at the races). And he has flourished into a kid who found his thing and he’s better for it.
Hopefully this story has many tales to tell others who are involved or thinking about becoming involved. What I would say to anyone is “Come to a race and see for yourself, the best Youth sports movement on the planet.”