LARGO, Fla. — Mountain biking….in Florida?
You may think it isn’t possible.
But a local biking team called the Pinellas Sharks is proving it can be done.
Jess Mefford is the head coach of the Pinellas Sharks. He says it can be challenging, but there is terrain for training and competing in the sunshine state.
“We have 15 or 20 different parks in Florida that have mountain bike trails and most of them are abandoned phosphate mines so they make the perfect place to ride you know, it is a lot more aggressive and a lot more fun than 5 minutes of uphill and 30 seconds of downhill,” Mefford said.
The Pinellas Sharks is a youth team that spans in ages from middle to high school.
“This is our fifth season for the Pinellas Sharks. We are a NICA team. NICA is the national interscholastic cycling association. And we’re a part of the Florida chapter,” Mefford explained.
Jess and his wife Tara Mefford, both have a passion for the sport and wanted to ensure young people in Tampa Bay have access to it.
“We want them to have a fun experience. Getting more kids on bikes, getting kids outdoors and into the woods and getting exercise, having some fun and just building some team spirit,” Tara Mefford said.
They get a chance to do something that’s out of the norm. That’s adventurous.
They’re currently in their preseason, gearing up for competition.
“We typically have about 15 to 20 teams in Florid per season and we race from Tallahassee down to Miami,” Mefford said.
Nickolas Poulaine was new to the sport before discovering the team. He’s come a long way with his skills.
“Ever since I joined the team, I’ve gained tons of strength,” Poulaine said. “I’ve gained courage and I have courage in everything that I do. Pride in everything I do.”
Mountain biking is a highly physical sport, but it requires a tough mental approach as well.
“You gain a lot of mental endurance. That’s the biggest thing about this sport is mental endurance. You can have all the muscle in the world, but you need endurance for the racing,” Poulaine said.
Kayla Liles is an experienced biker, and recently joined the team.
“There are things that I’m still learning with the team and they’re so kind and encouraging about it. If you fall off your bike, they’ll pick you up and teach you that falling is a part of the sport, but you never have to stay down.”
Although mountain biking is a male dominated sport, the Pinellas Sharks are looking to change that.
inspiring more girls like Kayla to get out on the trails.
“When I first started there really wasn’t anything for the girls. And eventually they started this whole little community called GRIT, which is girls riding together. And not only was I able to see older girls and look up to them. I got to help younger girls who didn’t have anyone else to look up to,” Liles reflected.
Over the past five years, Mefford has seen many of these students go from newcomers to top competitors.
“To see some of them that were just barely riding their bike to be able to ride for a competitive level for two of three hours and to see them on the podium, and the smiles on their face, it is fantastic.”