International High School Mountain Bikers Take To The Trails A group of international high school mountain bikers in Nashville is learning the intricacies of riding the trails while dealing with the challenges of growing up in the U.S.

International High School Mountain Bikers Take To The Trails

International High School Mountain Bikers Take To The Trails

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A group of international high school mountain bikers in Nashville is learning the intricacies of riding the trails while dealing with the challenges of growing up in the U.S.


A story now about mountain biking as a competitive school sport. In Nashville, races are dominated by teams from private schools. Riders wear matching spandex on expensive bikes. One group, though, started out racing in hoodies and jeans on bikes they built themselves. Natasha Senjanovic of member station WPLN followed the startup team, now in its second season.

NATASHA SENJANOVIC, BYLINE: The sun sets as a group of teenage boys pedals hard down an abandoned airport runway in Nashville. They're taking a break from the trails to work on sprints and stamina.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: Dude, you're so slow, Dude.

DAN FURBISH: Hey, hey, hey, our conversations are supportive and kind, right?

SENJANOVIC: They're still a little green and undisciplined. The coach, Dan Furbish, lovingly calls them the Bad News Bears.

FURBISH: I would say they're 10 times better than they were at this time last season.

SENJANOVIC: Furbish teaches international kids to build mountain bikes at Oasis, a Nashville community center that offers youths everything from afterschool workshops to a teen crisis shelter. A couple of years ago, Furbish thought, now that they've learned one skill, why not another? He gathered a group of them into a team.

FURBISH: We were basically - got them these bikes. And we're like, there's the starting line.

SENJANOVIC: One of them, 14-year-old George Ghabril, didn't even know how to ride a bike back then.

GEORGE GHABRIL: I crashed into every single tree.

SAUL BECERRA: You couldn't even get on the bike.

SENJANOVIC: That's his teammate Saul Becerra teasing him. This group didn't resemble much of a team back then. They had donated jerseys that didn't quite fit which, at first, they refused to wear. And then their bikes, patched together from scrap pieces, sometimes fell apart during races.

BECERRA: We used to be terrible. We used to all come in last place. Now this time, we - well, some of us came in last place.

SENJANOVIC: By the second season, they had the fundamentals down and worked on technique. Co-coach Greg O'Loughlin offers pointers for downhill riding.

GREG O'LOUGHLIN: Where should your butt be?

GHABRIL: Behind the seat.

O'LOUGHLIN: Yeah, behind the saddle, right?

SENJANOVIC: The coaches have had an uphill battle. It's not easy to mold a team out of newbie riders who cheer for one another in three languages. Five kids were born in Egypt, one in Mexico. And another is the first son born in the U.S. to Salvadoran parents.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #2: (Speaking Spanish).

SENJANOVIC: At practice, they shout over each other in Spanish, Arabic and English.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #3: (Speaking Arabic).

SENJANOVIC: Despite various backgrounds, these kids have a lot in common. They live in the same diverse neighborhood and went to middle school together. Now they're struggling to adapt to three different high schools, where George says they don't always fit in.

GHABRIL: People at my school - when they see me speaking Arabic, they act like I'm a new species of human. And, like, 20 people came up. Like, George, what are you speaking, hieroglyphics?

SENJANOVIC: The jokes are fine. But the guys say comments like, go back to your country, have gotten old. And Saul says, well, white kids could do the same.

BECERRA: You know what I told them? I said, go back to England.

SENJANOVIC: Given their ethnicities, they know they face more discrimination than most. But they're also teenagers who like to rib each other about girls and ride bikes in the mud. The coaches say, as the kids' riding skills grow, so does their confidence. And thanks to sponsors, they started their second season with matching uniforms and new bikes that stay in one piece.


SENJANOVIC: On race day, the boys line up, their faces serious as they prepare for the 10-mile trek ahead.


SENJANOVIC: They tear down the course, heading into the woods. An hour and a half later, one by one, they begin to emerge, including George, who's among the last around the corner towards the finish line. He's pedaling like crazy but not making much headway.

O'LOUGHLIN: Come on, George. Come on.

SENJANOVIC: His tire popped late in the race. And the rules kept him from fixing it. Still, he was determined not to quit.

FURBISH: Let's go, buddy.

SENJANOVIC: He cranks through the flat, working harder than everyone else just to finish. But George seems OK with the uneven odds. They all do. For NPR News, I'm Natasha Senjanovic in Nashville.


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