At Feedback Sports, we work with a lot of teams and organizations with ambitions to make an impact on the sport of cycling. Some are performance oriented, but others focus on the growth of the sport by encouraging a more diverse rider base, or youth development. Tiffany Dixon’s Northwest Arkansas cycling teams focus on more than racing – they’re creating cyclists from the ground up, and we couldn’t be more honored to partner with them. This is the story of how their program got its start.
Tiffany Dixon didn’t grow up with the dream of running her own cycling team. Cycling only came into her life when it became her son’s passion. Austin, who at age 11 was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, was always being told the things he would never be able to do. After reading a book about a professional road cyclist with the same condition, he became mildly obsessed with the sport. It opened his mind and, with it, his possibilities. Dixon purchased him a bike, found him a coach, and at age 13, Austin entered the world of competitive cycling.
“Biking saved my son’s life,” Dixon said. “It taught him that he could accomplish something he wanted as long as he was willing to work for it.” Instead of seeing his condition as a limitation, he used it as fuel. With newfound purpose and a set of goals, he was able to own his disease in a way he hadn’t before. Dixon saw that Austin wasn’t just learning how to ride better and faster. He was learning about hard work, dedication and a great deal about himself.
In the ensuing years, Dixon followed Austin, who is now 21, to competitions around the country, learning the ins and outs of competitive cycling. It didn’t take her long to realize that the culture of junior cycling was cutthroat and aggressive. Rather than seeing teams work together, it was everyone racing for himself. As a result, a number of junior cyclists were getting overlooked, left in the dust, frustrated or plain old burned out. “As a mom and a human I couldn’t just stand by and watch it,” Dixon said.
She became a sideline advocate for these supposed “underdogs.” Whether it was something technical they needed help with or just encouragement, Dixon sought out those who were at risk of being left behind, not being given the chance to reach their full potential.
Growing the Dream
In 2016 when a fellow cyclist and local business owner offered Dixon a chance to start a junior team, she didn’t hesitate. Combining her passion for the sport of cycling with what she had observed in her years on the sidelines, she saw this as an opportunity to do more than just start a junior cycling team. It was an opportunity to change the culture of junior cycling.
Taking to heart that kids are the future, Dixon knew if she changed the culture at the junior level, then with it came the potential to change the future of the sport. Dixon set out to create a team that focused just as much technical skills like cadence, drafting and speed work as it did on compassion, work ethic and how to be a team player. She wanted to grow the cycling community and serve the demographics that most often get overlooked — namely youth and women. Essential to her success was taking on and eliminating barriers that could potentially keep someone from biking. If someone needed a ride to practice, they got one. If someone needed a bike, they would find one. And while creating an athletic team not focused on winning races may seem unconventional, she firmly believed if she gave the under-served a chance to thrive, they would — they would win, even when they didn’t.
More Cycling – More Than Coaching
The unique concept of Breakaway Cycling gives kids like Marie Brown, a 17-year-old student, a fair shot. Brown was a junior racer eager to get involved, but lacked both experience and guidance. Before Breakaway entered the scene, she was a perfect candidate to have gotten chewed up and spit out by the cycling world. Instead she’s thriving on and off the racecourse. “Breakaway has taught me beyond the athletic aspect of cycling,” Marie said. “Character, good sportsmanship and growth are important to me. Winning is just a bonus.” But she does win. In a recent Avoca Road Training Race, she raced with the CAT 5 women and took first place. Marie gave much of the credit to her “strong and encouraging team” and, inspired to pay it forward, said she often befriends new cyclists to encourage them to become their best.“A little kindness to someone new in the community goes a long way,” she said.
While Breakaway’s mission goes beyond coaching technique and winning, coaching is obviously an imperative part of any team. Dixon’s first coaching recruit was an easy one. Brad Schrag proved himself to be someone who shared Dixon’s vision when he agreed to coach Austin. Austin’s condition made most teams and coaches reluctant. But Schrag gave him a chance when others wouldn’t. Along with Jake Schneidewind, this gang of certified coaches strives to teach both cycling and life skills. They see it as an opportunity to illustrate to their team, who are as young as 13, how much teamwork can impact results and success.
“Much of what we try to impress on the kids is that we all have different strengths and weaknesses,” Schrag said. “During a race if we focus on those strengths to the benefit of one individual, then they can be successful as a team.” There’s a saying that there is no such thing as losing. “You only win or you learn.” But Breakaway proves that there are lessons to learn in the winning, too.
This past summer, the team participated in the 11-day Tour of America’s Dairyland (TOAD) race in Wisconsin. Despite the junior boys missing the first two days, they collectively raced well enough to get one of their racers, Grant Lampson, within range of getting a spot on the podium. At a crucial point on the final lap, Lampson wasn’t in an ideal spot. Recognizing this, his teammates rallied together, combined their individual strengths, and were ultimately able to get Lampson in a position to win the sprint. “This win served as a testimony that they are starting to take some of these lessons of teamwork to heart,” Schrag said. “There was only going to be one of them on the podium but they all took pride and joy in the success of their teammate.” Side note: Lampson won the race on a bike loaned to him by Breakaway.
As a true community team, Breakaway is always assessing and implementing different programs. Ever devoted to getting more kids on bikes, they host kids camps that expose potential shredders as young as 8 to all the different cycling disciplines. To make sure riders keep riding, they offer clinics that allow them to sharpen their techniques. The community that guides Breakaway’s mission is also the community they rely on. They are fully funded through sponsorships, fundraisers and collaborations with other groups. And with hashtags like #morekidsonbikes, #community, #giveback #supportwomen and #bikesarefun all over their social media posts, it’s easy to get behind their mission.
“My dreams are always changing because my dream is to be whatever the community tells me it needs,” Dixon said. “The one constant is that we want to put more positivity out in the world. What we want is to produce better humans on and off the bike.”
Written By Lindsay Southwick
Photos By Jake Schneidewind