Ed. note: This marks the first summer we are running the Cadence Cycling Foundation (CCF) program. Through these cycling teams, more than 130 Philadelphia youth are discovering the sport of cycling while learning valuable leadership and goal-setting skills, skills they can apply in and outside of school.
One summer team is based in the KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy school in West Philadelphia. Our summer intern Khoury Johnson will be writing a series of reports from their practices. This is the first.
The heat is so oppressive on the Tuesday morning I meet the KIPP cycling team that even time seems to evaporate into a fumy haze. It is 9:59, and the KIPP team is slated to set out at 10:00. I’m only three blocks away, near 52nd and Viola streets, but my clothes are drenched with perspiration garnered from riding my deceivingly heavy folding bike from Center City to Fairmount Park.
I have to hurry, I tell myself. If I get there too late, then I won’t have a chance to meet any of the cyclists. And, if I don’t meet any of the cyclists, then I won’t be able to write this blog post. And if I don’t write this blog post, then no one is going to know what a KIPP practice is really like, and my entire internship will have been for nothing.[1. Ed note: this is not true.]
It’s 10:04 when I finally arrive at KIPP Charter School at 51st and Parkside Avenue, near the Mann Center. Two knocks and three seconds pass before an invisible hand pushes the door open from the inside. A dimly lit, diminutive lobby engulfs me as I enter, its silence disrupted only by the whizzing of spinning chains and the clicking of office pens where a receptionist waits for me to identify myself.
“I’m with the Coalition,” I explain. Perhaps I should have been more precise as to which coalition, but he sees my sweat, my bike, the mewling expression on my face, and a pair of KIPP riders gawking at me from across the room, and he approves my presence.
I turn to the two athletes, hoping to talk to one or both of them about the team and what they’re looking forward to this season. But they’ve already returned their attention back to fixing their bikes. All too aware of the limited time I have to conduct the interviews, I decide, screw it, and plop down next to the one who look less annoyed by my presence.
After rushing through pleasantries, I delve into a round of inquiries aimed at shedding light on what KIPP cycling is all about. The cyclist’s name is Justin and he’s the coach – he’s been coaching the CCF team at KIPP for about a year. With a calm demeanor he runs me through the gist of the squad’s routine: 5-8 members; two practices a week; multiple races throughout the summer; an acute emphasis on strengthening leadership through group rides and learning how to repair bikes.
The other cyclist is Joshua Walter, a student at Mastery Charter School. When I ask him about the one thing he’ll take away from his CCF experience, Joshua confirms Justin’s emphasis on leadership building. “Leadership, cooperation, and responsibility; I usually keep people together. I bring a couple of other people from Mastery with us, so I usually get them together so we can go over here and make sure everyone gets here on time.”
I ask Justin about good vantage points to post up and videotape some of their practice. Justin suggests I leave early and ride down to the Smith Memorial Arch on Lansdowne Drive. Their practice route circles under the archway repeatedly. “Hopefully we should be down there in about twenty minutes.”
Twenty minutes go by and I’m reclining on a shaded curb just past the memorial circle’s entrance, eyes peeled fro a stream of riders to come flying down hectic Parkside Avenue. Sure enough, they arrive, right around the time Justin said they would. I count seven riders— five boys, two girls— and all seem to be keeping up with whomever takes a turn pulling the pack.
The practice course starts out by veering off of Parkside Avenue, onto W Road, heading east until Avenue of the Republic. After making a right turn, one rides past the Please Touch Museum until it reaches the Smith Memorial Arch, where another right turn brings you to Concourse Street. A third right turn takes you up Concourse Street back up to W Road, where you make another right and complete the rectangular circuit.
The first time through the memorial archway the group rides as one unit, hardly any distance existing between first and last bike. I’m standing on the apex of the curve, flip video-camera in hand, taking in all of the action.
For each of the next five laps I relocate myself to get shots from different angles. One lap Joshua takes the lead. The next Justin leads, then other KIPP athletes I haven’t met. The two female cyclists ride wheel to wheel with the boys until their pace begins to wane at around lap four. By lap five, the group’s collective cadence had progressed from touring to an elongated sprint, and the cohesive group that began the ride has dissolved into a trio and two duos of fatigue.
At lap six, the leaders stop to allow the slower riders, male and female, to catch up. Justin and the other riders meet for ten minutes in front of the Please Touch Museum, cooling down and talking (unfortunately they parked on the opposite end of the course from where I was sitting). Then the party split up, with some of the riders retreating East down Lansdowne Drive, and some heading west back towards Parkside Avenue. Athletes who have shown commitment and responsibility within CCF are allowed to ride their bicycles home, while the others return them to the school.
The practice was over, and it was time to return to the office. Cotton-mouthed and disgruntled about the long ride ahead, I head back the same way I came.