On the afternoon of Monday, May 1, as usual, Cait and Lael met Steller GRIT at 2:10PM. When the girls went to the portable classroom behind the school to retrieve their bikes, they discovered that five of the bikes were missing. We avoided panicking, assuming that bikes were moved somewhere else in the school. Quickly, we realized this was not the case. The bikes were gone. The girls’ faces dropped.
“What do we do now? Does this mean that GRIT is over?”
“No. We will keep riding and doing everything we have planned.”
“What about today?”
Team GRIT still had a schedule to keep. We had a yoga and stretching session with Christa Koos at the BP Energy Center scheduled for 4PM. Cait suggested that we walk to the session. She led the group to the Chester Creek Trail to walk the 2 miles to the BP Energy Center. Lael stayed behind at Steller to investigate. She inquired in the office to find out who had access to the portable classroom. It is only used by the band teacher for first period and cleaned by the night time custodian. The band teacher had been gone for the past week. Lael went to visit Fernie, the evening custodian. Fernie told her that on the afternoon of Thursday, April 27 he went into the room to clean and the bikes were gone. In addition, the recycling bin was cast over, spilling all of it’s contents on the floor and the microwave was thrown on top of it. The bin of snacks that Team GRIT stores in the portable was abandoned in the field behind the school. Lael went back to the office to report this information and Haley, the administrative assistant, called in the night time security guard to review surveillance footage. Lael called the Alaska Police Department to report the theft. Within 15 minutes, Officer Baker came to Steller to make a police report. He spoke with Lael and Fernie and went to the portable classroom to check out the crime scene. He noted that there was no tampering to the door or damage to the windows. The doors of the classroom lock automatically and Officer Baker suggested that on the day of the theft the door may not have fully latched closed.
“This stinks. It’s infuriating to know that they didn’t even have to work for it. It was so easy.”
Lael and Officer Baker went back to the Steller office where the staff were watching surveillance footage. They confirmed that they saw someone enter the portable and take the bikes. Officer Baker watched the tape, but Lael was legally not permitted in to view it. From Steller, Officer Baker went to The Bicycle Shop to get the serial numbers for the stolen bikes. Lael rode across town to meet Team GRIT at the BP Energy Center. They were in the middle of a soothing yoga session with Christa Koos. It was the first time most of them had ever tried yoga and they loved it. Christa is a mountain biker and a full time instructor at Anchorage Yoga. She showed Team GRIT poses to stretch and strengthen their bodies. She encouraged them to breathe deeply and remain light hearted. There was lots of laughter in the room as everyone tried new postures and felt new sensations within their bodies.
“This feels amazing!”
“I am so relaxed.”
“Am I doing this right?”
“Does that feel better?”
At the end of the yoga session, Lael told the girls about the developments with the police. She assured them that no matter what they would ride on Wednesday and that they would continue to complete the entire GRIT schedule, including the final 2 night campout ride. She asked them if they had bikes they could borrow for Wednesday’s ride.
“Yeah, I have an old bike. It’s too small and it make lots of noise when I ride it.”
“Yeah, I can borrow my mom’s bike.”
“Please bring those bikes for our mountain bike skills session on Wednesday.”
They thanked Christa for the yoga session and headed outside to go back to school. The Steller girls walked and the Begich girls rode their bikes.
On Tuesday morning, Anchorage Dispatch News published an online article about GRIT and the bike theft. Within minutes, Lael’s phone was ringing and emails were pouring in. Dozens of people called and wrote to offer to donate bikes and money to the GRIT program. Lael and Cait decided to replace the bikes with the same bikes that Specialized provided in the first place. They asked the community to donate money to pay for the bikes and the community responded in a huge way. Within a day, they had raised enough money to not only replace the bikes, racks and helmets, but to also ensure that they can expand Anchorage GRIT next year.
On Wednesday morning, Lael went to The Bicycle Shop to get the new bikes. Fortunately, the shop had five Specialized Jynx bicycles in stock in the right sizes. A generous Anchorage local named Billy called Lael and offered to meet her at the shop and pay for two of the bikes. Minutes later another man named Dennis came in to pay for one of the bikes.
Lael called Sue and asked her to come in to the shop on her day off to help put racks and water bottle cages on the bikes. By 1PM the bikes were ready to go. At 2PM Lael and Cait went to Steller to meet the girls. There they met Dina Pang, a local mountain biker and a Mighty Bikes coach. As a group, they rode their borrowed bikes to The Bicycle Shop and their new bikes were waiting outside with their names printed on the top tubes. They adjusted saddle height and within minutes were riding away from the shop to get on the Chester Creek Trail and ride 4 miles to Russian Jack Park. It all happened so fast! Two local media stations, CBS and Fox News covered the story on the evening news. This is the recap from Bicycling Online and the follow up from ADN.
The Steller girls and the Begich girls met at Russian Jack Park. It was wonderful to have everybody together on their Specialized Jynx bicycles to continue the GRIT program. Danelle Winn, a local mountain biker and coach, met us at Russian Jack to partner with Dina Pang to teach us mountain bike skills. Danelle and Dina are great riders and full of enthusiasm. Learning skills from them was so much fun! We started in the field behind Russian Jack Elementary School. Dina taught us to use one finger for ultimate brake control. She also reminded us that the right brake lever controls the rear brake and the left lever controls the front. Dina and Danelle encouraged us engage the rear brake first and Team GRIT practiced braking down the grassy hill. The girls were timid at first, but everyone successfully rode down the hill. Then we worked on hill climbing. Dina taught the girls to shift into an easier gear and spin. Danelle encouraged them to get out of the saddle and power up the hill. Mountain biking includes a lot of different techniques and through dedicated practice, Team GRIT improved their climbing and descending within minutes. The girls began to ride more confidently.
We talked about falling. Every mountain biker falls. It’s just part of the sport. Dina encouraged the girls to take the impact of a fall into their shoulders and hold their arms close to their chest to avoid breaking bones.
Our next drill worked on balance. We lined up the bikes in the field and had a slow speed race– whoever could ride the slowest without putting a foot down won.
Then, Danelle went into the woods behind the field and found a log to use as an obstacle. She set it up on the grass and instructed the girls to ride over the log with momentum. Then, she taught how to lift their front wheels to clear the obstacle. Then, she placed the obstacle midway up the hill and taught them how to climb over it. These are really challenging skills, but the GRIT girls all attempted to climb over the log and as a result, improved their riding skills.
We took a break for snacks– salty caramel Stroopwafels and watermelon Energy Chews from Gu are definitely the favorites. Thanks, Gu Energy for providing snacks!
After snack, we practiced our log skills on a rooty trail in the woods. This is one of the only areas in Anchrage with dry dirt trails at this time of year. It was awesome to be riding through the woods and in a single day, the GRIT girls became real mountain bikers.
On the way back to Begich, we practiced climbing hills. Sometimes we had to walk a little, but we all made it to the top. We all stopped to check out a super steep hill.
“Is it rideable?”
Annika responded, “I don’t know, but I’m going to try and see how far I can get.” And she took off at full speed and rode as high as she could before putting a foot down. Then, the rest of us tried too. Nobody pedaled to the top, but we all gave it a good go. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you actually get to the top. It just matters that you’re not too afraid to try.
As mentors, we are so proud of Team GRIT. We’re proud that the girls are learning new skills, trying new things, working hard and having fun. We’re proud that our community cares so much about what we’re doing that within a single day, they donated enough money to replace the stolen bikes and ensure that GRIT will at least double in size for next year. Thanks to everyone who donated money so that we could replace the bikes. We really appreciate the support!