Biking and Learning with Sprockids

Words & Photos by Matthew Fox

Seeing health and connection to community in kids of all ages.

My name is Matthew Fox and I am a Sprockids Leader volunteer and overall community enthusiast here in Campbell River. Sprockids fulfills a vision I have for where I create, play, and explore—one of health and connectedness. A mountain bike program for youth aged 6 to 18, Sprockids was founded in Canada over 25 years ago by Doug Detwiller, who has grown the project internationally through his passion for teaching, physical activity, and the edification and affirmation of youth. The program was brought to Campbell River in 2013 by the hardworking visionaries of the Campbell River Bike Park Society, Wendy Ravai and Beth Petcher.

During its first year, all spots offered were filled within two weeks. Every year following, the program has filled up in less than an hour. Parents wanting their child(ren) in Sprockids need to line up for registration like a Boxing Day sale. It is safe to say that Sprockids is a huge success in Campbell River. The program has a formal leadership training program put on by its founder, and there are now 25 trained instructors in Campbell River who are able to accommodate up to almost 100 youth participants. Leaders vary in age and riding ability, and the organization is always looking for more people to join the team.

Personally, Sprockids has given me the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors, mountain biking, stewardship, and community through mentorship, instruction, and challenges. As an enthusiastic rider, I enjoy that mountain biking gives me exhilaration, something to master, and exercise that provides both physical and mental benefits. After having children, I wanted to be able to share my passion and provide children (my own and others’) with access to this activity. I signed up for the Sprockids Leadership Training Program mainly to ensure that my son would be guaranteed a spot as a Sprockid and what I gained was a multitude of inspiration from both Doug and my fellow leaders in training.

In my first year, I was assigned a batch of boisterous youth aged five and six and we ran through the 9-week program together. I was able to work with each child individually, teaching and encouraging them—not only in the technical aspects of riding a bicycle, but also instilling and enforcing respect for themselves, others, their bikes, the environment, and their community. Even the most challenging children excelled on the trail, zipping through the wilderness with our group, always with a focus on positivity and encouragement. Over those 9 weeks, I watched as they improved their skills and confidence. They also became informed members of the community, learning the rules of the road to protect themselves and others. Every week, each and every one of us (including me because I’m a kid on a bike too!), went home exhausted and muddy with big smiles on our faces.

Beyond Campbell River, I’ve been a part of the Sprockids program alongside Allan Campbell, a fellow Sprockids leader. I recently volunteered to provide emergency communications instruction to the boat-access-only First Nations community of Kyuquot. There, as here, the children are ripping around on their bicycles enjoying the thrill of speed, camaraderie, and independence. If you grew up with a bike, you may remember that it’s often the first implement of freedom for a child. Teaching children to embrace it and respect their environment from a young age benefits not only the child but their community as well.

As a clinical counsellor, Allan brought the Sprockids philosophy to Kyuquot as a way to provide positive physical and mental health outlets, encouraging the development of cycling culture in the community, and building a trail network by and for the people who live there. Like many leaders, Allan looked for others who were engaging in best practices and creative ideas, and found a partner in Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike Project (AYMBP) to further develop and implement this vision.

AYMBP, which operates in conjunction with Sprockids, has over 30 successful projects across Canada, bringing trail networks to First Nation communities, empowering the youth to take ownership of a trail development project, all while creating jobs in the community, providing a recreation outlet, and cultivating pride. There are also opportunities for tourism development and marketing of trail networks and riding if and where Nations are interested. Internationally-renowned mountain bikers have travelled great distances specifically to ride some of the trails built through the AYMBP in support of the program. Trailsare increasingly being promoted in BC as tourism products and experiences and can be drivers of economic and social sustainability for remote communities, if and when they are developed alongside the people who live there. So there is much potential not only in Kyuquot, but in many places within the Strathcona area.

Sprockids and the Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike Program are two of the ways I have been able to connect and learn about mountain biking, community, and youth. My vision for Strathcona is one where people of all ages, abilities, and circumstances feel healthy and connected through the beauty of our environment and shared experiences. For me, mountain biking enables these connections. It puts you in the wilderness with others—some you have chosen and others you meet along the way. The stoke is high, there is potential for deep fulfillment, and it gets us all out there—in the trails, in the environment, in our community.

If you are interested in becoming a leader, or registering your child(ren) for the program, email sprockids@crbikepark.ca.