RICHMOND, Va. -- Sometimes in life the path to success is lined with dirt. Some rolling athletes in Richmond are blazing a brand new trail with some help from behind. The twists, turns and bumps look like any other bike course, but a one mile-long path in the city is the only one of its kind in America.
Coach Craig Dodson, founder of Richmond Cycling Corp. and former professional rider, hatched the idea of establishing a cycling team in the most unlikely of places. You will find this track in the inner city.
“Cycling is everything for me. Fear of failure is what pushes me,” says Dodson. “It is 110 percent of tough love is what we deliver as a program.”
“This was revolutionary for us,” says Dodson.
Dodson admits his lofty idea was met with skepticism.
“I didn’t know them. They didn’t know me. I didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t know what to expect,” says Dodson.
The track was built last year on an abandoned 15 acres behind Armstrong High School.
The obstacles on this bumpy path are nothing what the teens face in life off the track. Each team member lives in Fairfield Court. A public housing development with a checkered past and long history of violence.
Janae Henley says Coach Dodson and the cycling team provide an escape even if it’s just a few hours a day.
“Self-determination. Not to give up,” says Henley. “When you have someone in life that actually cares about you it makes you want to go further in life.”
Under the watchful eye of Coach Dodson, the Armstrong High School students are reaching new heights.
“Hard Work. You got to work hard if you want it,” says 17-year-old Jasmine Walker.
“Emphatically we don’t let them down,” says Dodson. “If we say we’re going to do something we never fall short. If we say we’re going to be there. We are always there.”
Dodson’s team does not get paid by the Richmond school system. The coaches non-profit’s corporate sponsors pay for uniforms, equipment and bikes.
“It took three months for the first kid to put on a pair of spandex,” says Dodson.
Dodson is more than just a cycling expert. To the teens, he is a life coach who offers academic help with SOLs and issues at home or with the law.
“The care for us like. They actually care,” says team member Antonio.
“I’m not married. I don’t have kids. These kids have become like my kids,” says Dodson.
“He is able to talk to them. He is able to relate to them and problem solve and overcome their many obstacles and challenges,” says Armstrong’s Principal April Hawkins.
Cycling is a solitary endeavor, but each teen depends heavily on their teammates and coaches.
“I know there is pride in this. They know that it is special,” says assistant coach Matt Crane. “What we are saying is that we’re staying and building and keep growing.”
The team is proving its mettle. The Armstrong Cycling Team is ranked third in the state. The team, barely a few years old, ranks as one of the best -- proving many skeptics wrong including themselves.
“I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life,” says Jasmine Walker.
Coach Dodson’s team is demonstrating if you build it they will pedal to a place they never dreamed of before even if that path is a rocky one.