Photo courtesy Jason Stilson Amsterdam's Kayla Dzikowicz competes in a mountain biking race earlier this year in Schenectady's Central Park. Dzikowicz competes for a Niskayuna-based team.
Photo courtesy Jason Stilson Members of the HRRT Biking Club are shown after a race in Round Top. The club finished in third place in its league this season, and features Amsterdam's Kayla Dzikowicz. Shown, from left, are: Luke D'Aquila, Jake Tarbay, Jon Crowell, Stephen Moulin, Joel Anthony, Alec Betancourt and Dzikowicz.
Photo submitted Kayla Dzikowicz
By MICHAEL KELLY
Through caves, aboard wooden planks and -- unfortunately -- into pools of mud, Amsterdam's Kayla Dzikowicz took on all types of terrain this past spring.
She did it on wheels, too, as a member of the Niskayuna-based Helping Riders Realize Talent (HRRT) Biking Club, a squad which competes in the state's chapter of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which runs the mountain biking league.
What more, she did it well. Dzikowicz ended her season in early June as the third-place finisher in her division as a solo performer, while HRRT also came in third place in the overall team competition.
Dzikowicz competed in 2013-14 for Amsterdam High School's swimming and diving team, and its track and field squad, but managed to find time to finish her first full season of competitive biking, too. After competing in triathlons in the past, Dzikowicz said she took to her new sport more than a year ago as a way to train for the three-pronged event.
"Swimming is still my favorite, but I love biking now, too," she said Wednesday. "Swimming can be really stressful, and biking helps me clear up my thoughts."
Dzikowicz, 14, became involved with HRRT late in 2012 and competed in the state's inaugural season as a member of NICA. That campaign was an abridged one, but this year's schedule included four races all over the state, with one coming in Schenectady's Central Park.
HRRT is made up of riders from all around the Capital Region, and the club's athletes compete for the team in divisions based on age and gender. Male and female riders compete together on teams, each adding points from their own divisions, with athletes in the higher divisions capable of scoring more points for their squads. Dzikowicz competed in the freshman girls division, which means she generally competed in races around six or seven miles in length.
Dzikowicz trains with the rest of the HRRT riders throughout the year, starting in February with indoor workouts. Her brother, Trevor, also trains with the team despite being only 11 years old. He's enthusiastic about the sport, and keeps up with the older kids during training.
"He just can't race in the series yet," said Dzikowicz, as Trevor is still likely a few years away from being old enough to compete.
HRRT's coach is Andrew Rizzi. He just recently completed a trip to Utah in which he learned more training techniques for the 11 riders on his team, but Rizzi already has enough to keep the members of HRRT busy. The club works on basics such as braking and body balance -- but even the basics get pretty advanced. For example, the squad spends ample time working on making turns, as competitive racing calls for riders to pull of turns by leaning with his or her body, rather than shifting the handlebar like how most grew up riding on two wheels around a neighborhood.
The club engages in group rides to work on their endurance, but also spends time practicing with obstacles. The challenge -- and the fun -- of mountain biking is that competitors do not have the time to go around obstacles; instead, they go through them.
To work on that, Rizzi said he does things like bring logs into grassy areas for his athletes to ride across during practice sessions.
"That way," said Rizzi, "they don't have to worry about falling into something."
In a race, there is no such protection for riders.
"There's mud, rocks, trees -- anything," said Rizzi. "It definitely is a muddy sport."
But the obstacles are what make the sport great. Dzikowicz said her favorite race was one from a year ago, at Williams Lake in Rosendale, in which riders had to navigate caves within the course.
"It was the hottest day, and you'd go into one of the caves and it would be, like, 60," she said. "We were all joking after the race that we all should have stayed in the caves the whole time."
There seems to be a high level of camaraderie between the sport's riders. There were 13 teams that competed in 2014's New York series, meaning riders not only know their teammates well, but also their opponents.
"We're all like a big family, all the different clubs," said Dzikowicz. "We all cheer for one another, so it's different than a lot of other sports in that way ... and we all look out for each other."
Dzikowicz and her team had their final race of the season June 1 in Round Top. Bronxville High School won the overall competition, and that squad is also the model for future seasons in New York's chapter of NICA; the goal is to eventually have the state's racing scene resemble the ones in more-established racing states such as California and Texas, where teams are larger and made up of athletes all from one town or school.
But that's likely a ways away for New York on a large scale, Rizzi said. The coach said he thinks the Capital Region could have Guilderland- and Niskayuna-only squads within a couple years, but where the third team -- and beyond -- will come from is still a mystery. Part of the battle during the next few years will be to develop interest in the sport; to that end, Rizzi is leading a group of riders this weekend to a course in Vermont, a retreat Dzikowicz and her family will attend.
Rizzi laughed when asked if he thought the weekend's weather will cooperate for his troops. If it doesn't, he said, that's fine.
"We go out and muck it up," said Rizzi. "That's half the fun."
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