As part of Kaiser Permanente commitment to the community, we are proud to support youth cycling. Kaiser Permanente of Washington has distributed thousands of free kids’ bike helmets at events across the state. We are also a sponsor of the Major Taylor Project, which helps boys and girls from diverse and often underserved areas get into cycling.
On a clear, warm July Sunday in Portland, Oregon, a group of young bicycle riders, sporting orange and black jerseys in an ocean of blue jerseys, triumphantly crossed the finish line of the annual Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride.
But what distinguished these riders from the nearly 10,000 other riders wasn’t just jerseys. These riders were members of the Major Taylor Project, a year-round, youth development cycling program that introduces Seattle area middle school and high school students from diverse communities to recreational cycling, healthy living, bicycle maintenance, and road-safety awareness. Thanks in part to a Kaiser Permanente sponsorship, the program expanded from 10 to 16 middle schools and high schools in 2016, making it available to nearly 400 kids in King County and Tacoma.
One Major Taylor participant who completed the STP, 15-year-old Dashawn of Stadium High in Tacoma, said, “I felt great when I finished the STP. I felt really accomplished. I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it, but the staff were nice, and they pushed me.”
Dashawn first learned of the Major Taylor Project when he stopped to check out a bike polo game he encountered while walking home from his summer job. A Major Taylor ride leader, Leon Nettels, encouraged Dashawn to sign up for Major Taylor, and soon Dashawn was training for the STP with rides of up to 100 miles. But before the STP, Dashawn had never completed such a long ride.
Major Taylor reaches underserved communities
The Major Taylor Project was founded 10 years ago by Ed Ewing of Cascade Bicycle Club with support from former King County Executive Ron Sims and others. Recognizing that people of color were underrepresented in cycling, Ewing aimed to help remedy that by introducing cycling to students from diverse, often underserved schools.
The project is named after Marshall “Major” Taylor, an African American cyclist who set numerous world records in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Taylor was only the second black athlete to hold a world championship in any sport.
The Major Taylor Project comprehensively trains and educates young cyclists. In addition to weekly rides and lessons in everything from map reading to healthy nutrition, it offers students a chance to participate in an eight-week bike maintenance course. Each student who completes the course gets to keep the bicycle they’ve learned to maintain.
More than biking
The Major Taylor Project has been a tremendous success. Over the course of months it can turn novice riders into seasoned vets capable of completing the STP. Ewing explained, “In March they were struggling to ride three miles, and in July they rode 210 miles with strength and determination.”
But it’s about more than cycling. The Major Taylor Project encourages youth to expand their world view and explore the idea that they have the power to change themselves and their community.
Ewing went on to say this feat is all the more impressive because “when you consider these kids and the background they come from – just to get to school is a challenge.”
Teachers and parents have seen classrooms and lives transformed by the project, Ewing added, as students develop self-esteem and become more engaged through participation.
Two Major Taylor graduates have even rejoined the program as ride leaders, and are training a whole new generation of riders.
Take it from Dashawn, the STP first-timer you met earlier. “The Major Taylor Project makes a big impact on our lives,” Dashawn said. “If it weren’t for Major Taylor, I wouldn’t be able ride in the STP… They treat me great, the kids are great, and it’s a great program.”
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