Mountain Biking Program Designed to Build Confidence in Girls
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In its sixth year, the Little Bellas mentoring program is giving girls a sense of confidence and community through mountain biking on the trails of Springside Park, say organizers.
"I think the biggest two things are the confidence-boosting, and then that sense of community. We've had girls who have gotten together to ride outside of the program afterward or participated in team events," program lead Alison McGee said.
"They go and kind of grow that way, but that I mean, also, you do see their mountain bike skills grow and I think a lot of it does come from confidence, it's being able to feel like you can tackle anything, and we really emphasize it's doing what you feel comfortable with but creating that safe environment, where they feel comfortable to try new things."
Last week, 17 girls from Berkshire County and surrounding areas participated in the non-competitive mountain biking camp that connects them with mentors in the spirit of outdoor recreation.
The young riders enjoyed half days of mountain biking through the expansive trails of Springside Park and activities that encourage self-expression.
The girls played games such as bike limbo, water balloons, and an exercise that teaches a rider how to control the bike in tight spaces.
Mentors include local women with a range of skills who can be role models for the participants and junior mentors, who begin at the age of 14. McGee said a former Little Bella was leading as a junior mentor this year.
Admissions are growing each year as returning and new Bellas enroll.
"We have a lot of girls who have repeated and every year and we have a bunch of girls that are new," she added. "We've had girls come from everywhere from right here in Pittsfield, to New Jersey, Vermont, I think we had some New Hampshire girls come down."
The program has been around since 2007 and in Pittsfield the last six.
Mountain biking enthusiast Mary Parkman began the Berkshire chapter to pass her love for the sport on to young girls while promoting teamwork, goal-setting, and healthy living.
"Basically it's up to an individual woman in an area to get it started," McGee explained. "And then (Little Bellas) provide a lot of different training and resources, there's a whole registration platform and over the years they have developed some curriculum, they call it, games and activities or ways to approach mountain bike skills."
McGee got involved with the program in 2016 because of her love for mountain biking and background in education.
For the first four years, it was held at Pittsfield State Forest. Because of its location in Springside Park, the camp would benefit from the proposed Springside pump track and bike skills course.
The Little Bellas have a curriculum that is specifically linked to pump tracks, McGee explained, and the group has been supportive in the proposal.
The first program was launched in Williston, Vt., with 12 girls participating and then grew across the country. By 2019, Little Bellas announced an intention to have 60 programs nationwide by 2022.
Founders Lea and Sabra Davison saw a lack of female representation during their time competing in nationwide bike series and concluded that there aren't a proportionate number of women involved in the sport.
Reportedly, a survey that inspired them found that girls ages 8 to 12 tend to drop out of mountain biking while boys stay with it.
The two collaborated with Angela Irvine to start the program, offering teaching sessions to young women on Sundays throughout the summer of 2007.
The origin of the name Little Bella comes from a women's riding club called the "Bellaship of the Wheel" that was native to the program's home in Vermont. Its intent is to evoke a sense of belonging and connection.
McGee added that this program is made accessible to families of all incomes with scholarships and the offering of bike loans. This year, a rider was able to borrow a bike for the season to improve her skills and grow her passions beyond the week of bike camp.
Because of interest from adult women, McGee began an introductory ride through the New England Mountain Biking Association called "Bigger Bellas" that allows women to feel supported in the sport and in themselves.
Bigger Bellas began last year and is in the planning process for late summer and fall.