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A Skinsuit and a Hug

Star Track Cycling teaches inner-city kids the ins and outs of riding a bike—and growing up.

“I was never into riding bikes myself, but I know the power of bike racing,” says Star Track coach and director Peter Taylor. “My son, who races, has a massive amount of learning disabilities that he’s struggled with growing up. Cycling saved his life. It gave him confidence he never knew he had.”

And that confidence is the exact reason cycling world champion and Olympic athlete Deirdre Murphy Bader began the Star Track program back in 2012. Bader saw that inner-city kids could use a few lessons to improve their health, as well as their confidence and emotional well-being, and she decided that track cycling at Kissena Velodrome in NYC was the way to do this. Children ages 8 to 14 are eligible for the program, and they learn the fundamentals of track cycling, as well as teamwork, endurance, and leadership.

Bader recruited Taylor to help coach the program after noticing him on the sidelines cheering on his son. Taylor agreed, and after Bader fell ill with cancer, Taylor took full reigns, now alongside co-director David Harrison.

“Deirdre was an incredible woman, and she really left a legacy with this program,” says Taylor. “These kids love learning to ride. It really transforms them. That’s what Deirdre wanted.”

In addition to the after-school program, Star Track also has an elite team of cyclists who compete at the national level. This was born out of a conversation that Taylor had with an athlete Dominic Suozzi, who was winning every race he attended, yet he didn’t have any support.

“I couldn’t offer him much. I told him that if he rode for Star Track, the most I could offer him was a skinsuit and a hug,” says Taylor. “But that was more than he was getting at the moment.”

But being a member of the elite team doesn’t come totally free. All elite athletes must volunteer with Star Track’s after-school program and help coach and mentor the kids. It’s Star Track’s way of showing the athletes the importance of getting involved in their community, as almost all of them never experienced the after-school program themselves.

All of them, that is, except for Josh Hartman. Hartman came up through the after-school program, and he fell in love with the sport. Instead of following some of his friends into gangs or trouble, he rode his bike after school, and he credits Star Track with keeping him out of trouble in the early days. Now, he’s an elite-level athlete with Star Track and dealing with a different struggle—the fact that there is not much support for track cycling outside of the Star Track program in the United States.

For example, Taylor describes the crowd at the U.S. Track Nationals in L.A.

“There were probably 80 people in the stands. 70 of those people were family members. But you go to Europe, and track cycling is broadcasted on television to more than 4 million people. Here in the U.S. it’s not popular yet. But when I see people like Josh who are so talented and who truly need this sport, we have to support them.

“These kids work so hard,” he continues. “They’re training and working at Dick’s Sporting Goods or Starbucks and trying to keep up with school as well. They’re all busting to become Olympians with very little reward for it. When you see that, you want to help them.”

Star Track runs fully on donations and volunteer help, and they are continually seeking more support to continue to grow the program. They currently have more than 150 kids on the waiting list for the program—kids they can’t accept until they receive more funding.

“So we just keep fundraising and keep pushing,” says Taylor. “And we won’t stop. One of the best moments of my coaching career was when one kid who was really struggling—really lacked self-confidence—ran up to me yelling with a big smile on his face, ‘Coach! Coach! I got fourth place!’ That makes it all worth it.”

To learn more about Star Track Cycling or donate to the program, visit startrackcycling.org.