Ten-time national champions! That’s the latest triumph the Lees-McRae College Bobcat Cycling Team can boast after a win at USA Cycling Cyclo-cross Nationals in December. But not for long… Next up for the national championship college is the January launch of a one-of-a-kind academic program in Bicycling Studies.
This spring, Lees-McRae College is “bridging the gap” between the bicycle and the classroom with the start of an innovative new minor program of study in Bicycling Studies that will enroll students beginning this January. This new addition to the curriculum positions Lees-McRae College as the only college in the United States to offer a unique academic-based program in Bicycling Studies.
So why study cycling? Fueled by the vision of new college president, Dr. Barry M. Buxton, a self-proclaimed cycling enthusiast who often rides with members of the team, this new minor program in cycling studies will open opportunities for graduates to enter the professional cycling world after college, whether it’s on or off the bike.
With annual growth rates projected at 10 to 25 percent worldwide, the global bicycle market shows significant growth revenues exceeding $61 billion through 2011, according to James Rickman at seekingalpha.com.
“We want to give our talented cyclists another avenue in which to explore the ever-growing and dynamic world of cycling. Our students are talented riders and mechanics, and we want to provide them with opportunities outside of team racing,” said President Barry M. Buxton. “With the College’s new cycling minor in place, our graduates can be extremely competitive in the cycling industry as coaches, managers, officials, planners, ream directors, designers, promoters, trainers, etc.”
The cycling minor is part of Buxton’s revitalization strategy to strengthen the College. “My goal is to ultimately have 150 cyclists enrolled at Lees-McRae,” said President Buxton. “We plan to continue to win national championships, but we also want to prepare our graduates to assume positions of leadership in the business world of bicycling.”
“As our sport continues to grow, we are seeing more and more cycling-related employment opportunities both on and off the bike,” said USA Cycling CEO Steve Johnson. “Programs in cycling education, such as Lees-McRae’s, will be instrumental in providing both the qualified personnel to meet the industry’s growing demands, and to continue building professionalism in our sport and industry.”
Students in the program will learn the history and principles of bicycling; obtain skills needed to integrate cycling into the environment, city planning and recreation tourism; envision and develop a realized cycling-related business and synthesize the sport of cycling. This program will position graduates to obtain positions in fields such as team management, bicycle design, coaching, education, urban design, training, retail, planning, event promotion, marketing and more.
“This minor will be a great extension of Lees McRae’s wildly successful cycling program, and it’s yet another sign of cycling’s growing presence in the vocabulary of American sports; in particular inter-collegiate athletics. I look forward to working with the future graduates of this program down the road, who I’m sure will be successful leaders in the world of cycling,” said USA Cycling Collegiate Program Manager Jeffrey Hansen.
Identified goals of the program include promoting the art and science of the bicycling industry, providing quality education to support the knowledge and skills of bicycling competitors and enthusiasts, promoting bicycle safety and preparing future generations of bicyclists.
Courses that make up the program range from History and Principles of Bicycling to Business and Economics of Sports and from Nutrition and Athletic Performance to Creativity and Innovation. Students will also complete a field study in cycling and an internship in cycling before graduation.
Lees-McRae College’s cycling team won its first national title in 2003 while competing at the Division II level. In the fall of 2006, the team petitioned, and was granted admission, to compete at the Division I level. The Bobcats won their first Division I national title that same year.
“It is exciting to see the dream that began with Coach Sean McAndrew now develop into this amazing program. In 2006 when we took the program to the Division I level, it was only in my wildest dreams that one day the school would embrace cycling in this manner. It is so innovative and is what our country needs to move into the next decade,” said Doug Owen, former head coach of the cycling team and member of Lees-McRae’s Cycling Advisory Board. “President Buxton’s vision is one I hope will become addictive to others around the collegiate community. The students are our future; we should all be doing everything we can do to prepare them for theirs.”
Seven years and 10 national titles later, Lees-McRae’s Cycling Team continues to compete against the best collegiate teams in the country and continues to win individual and team championships each year.
Since its inception, the Bobcat cycling team has been turning out professional cyclists like a well-oiled machine. Noted alumni currently competing at the professional level include Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team), Aaron Bradford (OnSite Racing), Ally Stacher (HTC-Highroad), Scott Stewart (Team Type 1), and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervelo), among others.
At the highest campus in the eastern United States, Lees-McRae’s riders train and study in some of the most demanding terrain in the country. The campus sits in the shadow of Beech Mountain where Lance Armstrong renewed his passion for cycling only to win the Tour de France the very next summer. The campus boasts two different cross country single track trail systems and a dual slalom course. The College is also in the final stages of renovating a bike room complete with training facilities, showers and bike storage racks, and decorated with national championship banners and cycling memorabilia.
This announcement for Lees-McRae Cycling is bittersweet, as it comes on the heels of the devastating news of the untimely death of Lees-McRae’s standout rider Carla Swart in a training accident in her native South Africa January 19. Swart had recently signed with HTC-Highroad for the 2011 season. She was the most decorated collegiate cyclist in history with 19 national titles, and in 2008, she won a “Grand Slam”, with national titles in each of the four collegiate cycling disciplines in a calendar year, a feat no other collegiate cyclist has accomplished.
The Carla Swart Memorial Scholarship at Lees-McRae College will honor her memory and countless accomplishments, and will be awarded to a female cyclist who demonstrates a love for the sport and exhibits great promise as a cyclist.