Team High Gear COY21 2

Meet 2021 Division III Club of the Year: Team High Gear

By: Jim Rusnak  April 14, 2022

When Team High Gear formed in January of 2021, it was just supposed to be a developmental club for kids looking to ride and race in the wake of a year turned upside-down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They had a lot of fun and a lot of success along the way, which culminated when USA Cycling named this group of mountain bikers out of Prescott, Ariz., as its 2021 Division III Club of the Year. The recognition came as a bit of a surprise to the team’s executive director Monica Fabian and coach Jonathan Krafft.

“When Jonathan and I heard, we were like, ‘they picked us?’” Fabian said. “We were a little surprised because it was a little like, ‘I wonder what we did.’ I would have to think it was because our participation was there. Even though we knew we weren’t always going to win, and we wouldn’t always be on the podium, we were there, getting better. We did all the races – as many as we could... I think it’s just because these kids kept showing up.”

Team High Gear, sponsored by High Gear Bike Shop in Prescott, consisted of 12 Juniors and a Masters racer. Fabian says all the kids were great riders but weren’t quite ready for some of the big-time clubs out there. In addition, they needed something to do – a social outlet – during a school year that was all online due to the COVID Pandemic.

Fabian said she and Krafft could see the social isolation brought on by the pandemic taking its toll on their kids’ mental health. They didn’t want that to happen, so they just got them together and rode. They’d do rock drops at their local trail. Practice their skills. They didn’t even know if there would be any races.

“I don’t know that we really set forth a goal or philosophy,” Fabian said. “They were great riders, and they were so dedicated, but there was really no forum for them to go to. So, we put this team together. They all worked together to get better as a developmental team. Were they top podium winners all the time? No. Were they great riders? Yes.”

In addition to all their riding locally, the team also did a camp together in Tucson in January of 2021 with Jason Tellous of Tenac Championship Coaching. All this time in the saddle with the hope that—if there were to be racing—the kids would be better riders and ready to go once the season started. And luckily, all that preparation paid off. The team did get a chance to race in 2021, and as Fabian said, they took every opportunity to compete.

“If there was a race close enough, they tried to get to it,” Fabian said. “Because now all of sudden they were like, ‘There is racing. Can we do it?’”

In addition to a number of races in Big Bear, Calif., the team also took 10 racers to the National Championships last July in Winter Park, Colo., where team member Ethan Krafft emerged as National Champion in the XC Men’s 19-24 division.

Seven kids from Team High Gear raced at the OZ Trails U.S. Pro Cup last April in Fayetteville, Ark., one of just two UCI-sanctioned events held in the United States.

“The fact that they had the opportunity to get to the UCI race was [amazing],” Fabian said. “They saw some of their favorite racers. Yes, they got to race in it, but they got to see other racing that was phenomenal. And OZ Trails did a great job. It was probably the highlight of their racing experience, given the number of races we had. We only had so many races to deal with last year, and I think maybe the experience was heightened because we didn’t have a lot of races. When we had that opportunity to go to a UCI race, in the United States, they were pretty thrilled.”

On the non-competitive side of the team’s activities, the club conducted a skills day where some local pros came in and worked with the kids, and the 12 older kids on USA Cycling-affiliated members paired up with members of their regional team to serve as mentors to their younger counterparts.

“Sometimes you need people to help mentor and show,” Fabian said. “These younger kids love to look up to the bigger kids.”

The team also held a community food drive where members went door to door on their bikes and collected more than 1,300 pounds of food for the local food bank.

“At that point we couldn’t do much riding, so we had to do something to keep these kids connected,” Fabian said.

While it was a successful season for the club by any measure, it was also its last. Most of the members have now moved on to bigger things. Three of them—Theodore Fabian, Nathan Bigelow and Alissa Dent—went on to compete at the Colorado School of Mines, which won the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships D2 Club Division last fall. Ethan Krafft went on to the University of Arizona, and Natalie DeCaro won a $1500 scholarship from Team Big Bear to race at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. Ellie Krafft—a three-time NICA champion—is now competing for the Big Bear Development Team. The remaining kids are still in high school and went on to compete in the Arizona Interscholastic Bicycling League, where they finished second at state.

Fabian got a lump in her throat looking back at all the things they accomplished in the last year.

“As a parent it’s just crushing, I have to tell you,” Fabian said. “I’ve watched these kids for years, and they just wanted to ride. I kind of felt like a parent to all these kids, I’ve had them for so long in NICA and Junior High programs. Some of these kids have been with me for 5 or 6 years in one form or another. We just like to ride. If we had said, ‘You have to come and win and podium, and that’s the only way you could be on the team,’ no one would have come. But we had fun. We did our events, and we always made sure the kids had a good experience. I miss it incredibly.”