Through Hollinsummer’s Inaugural Cycling Camp, Young Women Can Build Skills on the Trail and in Life

Through Hollinsummer’s Inaugural Cycling Camp, Young Women Can Build Skills on the Trail and in Life

Community Outreach, Special Events

March 21, 2024

Through Hollinsummer’s Inaugural Cycling Camp, Young Women Can Build Skills on the Trail and in Life

Emily Hairfield, DMSc, balances her career in medicine with a passion for the outdoors. An avid cyclist, she has competed in world class mountain and gravel races in Virginia and around the world while supporting and sharing her experiences with riders of all ages.

In reflecting on the importance biking has held for her, Hairfield cites one opportunity she says she would have loved to have had as an adolescent that never came her way: a cycling camp that focused on challenging and inspiring young women to meet their own goals, both on the bike and in their daily lives.

At Hollins University this summer, Hairfield and her husband, eight-time national champion cyclist and singlespeed world champion Gordon Wadsworth, are bringing that dream to fruition. As part of Hollinsummer, the university’s pre-college summer program for rising 9th through 12th grade girls, they will lead the first-ever Trailblazers Cycling Camp, July 14-20.

“Cycling can be a therapeutic and beautiful outlet for wherever you are in life, and I think for women specifically that’s really important,” Hairfield explains. “You don’t have to be a professional athlete or a weekend warrior to ride your bike. You can have an amazing career, you can be an amazing student, you can be an amazing athlete, and you can be an amazing sister or partner, and in some aspect, bikes can fit in.”

The Trailblazers Cycling Camp is the idea of Hollins Outdoor Program Director Jon Guy Owens, who felt that the growing volume of riders in the Roanoke region and Hollins’ nearness to resources such as Carvins Cove Natural Reserve made the initiative “a no-brainer,” Wadsworth says. “And in this country especially, youth cycling is growing.” Last year, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) reported that “18,576 kids in the nation participated in different divisions of NICA in 2018. In 2022, 25,616 kids signed up to ride and race with their peers. This is an increase of roughly 35% in just four years.”

Hairfield and Wadsworth have designed the Trailblazers Cycling Camp for young women who are intermediate and advanced riders. “These are riders who are able to safely handle trails and a variety of terrains,” Wadsworth explains. “We want riders who understand and are comfortable with their equipment. For example, a saddle that doesn’t fit you is going to be an issue. Their bikes should be in working order, and riders should know how their bikes respond to trail forces.”

He continues, “We are going to be doing some really fun and demanding trails in the Roanoke Valley, and if you don’t know your bike and you take it into a situation in which you don’t ride every day, it’s an added layer of challenge to your safety and fun. The rider who knows their gear will have the most enjoyment and the best learning experience.”

Hairfield adds that a participant who comes to the camp with appropriate equipment and a familiarity with it “will be capable of problem-solving if something happens. That’s a big thing. It’s not just showing up, it’s the tools you bring as well.” She notes that the proper equipment for the camp will also include well-fitting personal gear such as helmets, cycling shorts, and shoes.

While riding and skill development will be priorities at the Trailblazers Cycling Camp, Wadsworth says that considerable focus throughout the week will be placed on fellowship among the participants. “Cycling is rapidly become a sport with more gender parity, but it is still overwhelmingly male. So, one of our objectives is to foster a sense of community among young female riders at a very micro level. We will spend a lot of time after riding engaged in seminars and evening activities concerning all aspects of the mountain biking experience, including trail stewardship. One of the strengths of the bicycle is that it brings us all to the same table and lets us share and experience things together. It cultivates a good atmosphere, community, and camaraderie.”

That sense of community, Hairfield stresses, is always available. “Whether you are a racer or a casual rider, this is something everybody can benefit from, and it can be lifelong. Your goals don’t have to be the same as somebody else’s.”

To help young women realize their own personal aspirations for the camp, Hairfield says she intends to meet participants “where they’re at. I feel like there are so many pressures for women in life. You’re expected to be an athlete, or a homemaker, or a professional. You’re expected to be all things to all people, and it may not be that you can meet those expectations. I think taking the approach of ‘What are you hoping to get out of this?’ and not what I or others want them to get is important. From what I’ve seen, the most successful outcomes for kids in these camps are when they are meeting their own goals, not something that’s projected on them.”

Citing the “amazing Hollins environment,” Wadsworth believes the university is the perfect venue for the Trailblazers Cycling Camp. “Not only does it have proximity to fantastic trails, but Hollins also represents a very different type of education that focuses on academic excellence, community, and the whole student. I think it is especially critical for young women to have access to that, and Hollins is an exceptional place to do it.”

Apply to the Hollinsummer Trailblazers Cycling Camp on the camp’s webpage, where you can also learn more about the instructors and get a sample daily schedule of the week’s activities.