June 11, 2013

Kristin Butcher

Lees-McRae students with PeopleForBikes president, Tim Blumenthal (third from the left).

College is often defined by homework, part-time jobs, and partying. However, Lees-McRae isn’t your typical college. Offering the country’s only minor in Cycling Studies, a bevy of cycling scholarships, and a cycling team boasting 10 National Championship titles, college life for many on the small campus nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains revolves around two wheels. 

To encourage the college’s commitment to cycling, People for Bikes awarded six Lees-McRae students scholarships to attend the National Bike Summit in March in Washington, D.C.

?Until recently none of my memories involved advocacy; I had never seen that as something I could get involved with,? said Joe Liston, one of the scholarship recipients. 

With their suits and ties neatly packed, the Lees-McRae students joined more than 750 other attendees from all 50 states to lobby members of Congress and educate representatives on bike issues specific to their congressional districts.

After exploring the city’s cycling infrastructure and facilities by bike, the students spent a day attending the Bike Summit’s various workshops. There they learned specific advocacy approaches, including leveraging the economic impact of cycling, using social media to further advocacy, and how to make effective ?asks? to their representatives.

Then they got to work?on Capitol Hill?for the culmination of the National Bike Summit. ?I could not wait to get into our meetings and see if I could make a difference,? said student Gunnar Bergy. Talk about potential. The students all noted the overwhelming sense of possibility as hundreds of like-minded advocates joined together to promote cycling. ?Through every marble hallway, and the many stepped ?relocation centers,? the bright badges of the National Bike Summit could be seen,? observed Bergy.

The day went by in a whirl of meetings, hand shaking, and generally positive responses to the specific ?asks? posed by Summit attendees. Though the students were prepared to meet with congressional staff, they found many members of Congress took time out of their day to meet with face-to-face. Hello Senator!

?I enjoyed every moment I spent on the Hill. It was one of the highlights of my year,? said Cody Phillips. With a new understanding for how his own passion for riding was created on a foundation laid by prior advocates, Phillips realized how important his role could be to future generations. ?If we don’t continue in the advocates? footsteps, who knows if my kids will be able to ride the way I rode as a kid?? asked Phillips.

Phillips in front of the U.S. Captiol Building.

In addition to earning valuable experience, the students made an impact. On his return trip home, student Liston received an email from Congressman Jim Gerlach?s office agreeing to sign a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting performance measures for non-motorized transportation. ?I may not have saved the world, but on my first trip to D.C. I had a small win that [is] going to help bicycling,? said Joe Liston.

For these Lees-McRae students, college life is still defined by homework, part-time jobs, and a lot of bike racing. But now, they get to add ?meeting members of Congress? to the list.

Here are some additional photos from their trip:

Many of the National Bike Summit attendees traveled around the city by Capital Bikeshare, DC’s bikeshare program.

Lees-McRae students met with many members of Congress to educate them on bike issues.

Getting around DC by bike has never been so easy thanks to the many miles of green lanes that have been installed.


Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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