All In: Niskayuna bike racers embrace challenge of the Mountain Goats –

Maya Healey and Melinda Wetzel, both of Niskayuna, participate in two styles of bike racing: cyclocross and mountain bike.

They are members of the Niskayuna/Mohawk Mountain Goats Bike Team, a National Interscholastic Cycling Association affiliation organized by head coach Andrew Rizzi. It is one of a few youth biking clubs in the Capital Region.

“We want to get as many kids out of the house and into the woods as we can,” the website says. The team is open to all Capital Region bikers.

The Mountain Goats team for 2020 includes 23 boys and 7 girls, Rizzi said.

Healey and Wetzel talked to me about their sport and their training during the coronavirus shutdown. Healey is a freshman who turns 15 this week and has competed for several years. Wetzel is a 16-year-old junior who recently joined the team. Healey has earned a spot on the podium in several state competitions as an individual and for the club’s co-ed team.

This is the second in an occasional series about women and girls who compete in non-traditional sports. Answers have been condensed for clarity.

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Q: How did you get into bike racing and how long have you been doing it?

Maya: I started with cyclocross when I was about 8. It’s biking on grass. My parents both bike and a lot of people who cyclocross also do mountain biking. I heard about the team and joined in the seventh grade.

Melinda: I’ve been mountain biking since August of last year. My friend Olivia Guzzo took me to Central Park once — which is where my favorite trails are — and the first time I fell in love with it. I was never big into sports but the first time I did it it just clicked. I also got into cyclocross and raced in the fall and that season went very well for me.

Q: What is practice like now that your team can’t get together?

Maya: Close to every day I go to the local trails. I live a few blocks from Central Park so I might just go there and do a lap. Sometimes I meet up with Olivia and Melinda but we stay apart and are safe. It’s good to get outside now because during the winter I’ve been inside on the trainer (a mounting device for indoor training using an outdoor bike).

Melinda: I mountain bike just about every day in the trails. I also have an athletic trainer who helps me out. I get workouts that I do on the bike, indoors and outdoors. I tend to go outside as much as possible because I love the outdoors. I try to ride at least an hour a day with a day or two off a week. I also have a trainer (bike mounting device) at home.

Q: What is it like to compete in bike races?

Maya: We go as far north as Queensbury and south to Long Island for competitions. In the races, there’s a lot less girls than boys. In my races, there might be 10 girls. You usually want to start fast because it starts on grass or gravel and then you go into the woods so you want to be out front. Varsity can do 15-20 miles, my races are around 10 miles because I’ve been racing freshmen these last two years. Mountain bike racing is on trails through the woods. Cyclocross is on grass and they have barriers that are about a foot and a half and you have to get off your bike and hop them and you also have run-ups where you have to put your bike on your shoulder and run up the hill. I’ve had little crashes, some cuts and bruises, but nothing big.

Melinda: I crash pretty much every time I race (laughing). I’m really bad with mud. I have some epic fails when racing. But I love obstacles and can be fearless, which is good but sometimes is bad. Falling is just part of the sport. I’ve learned how to fall, I play a lot of instruments and I can’t hurt my hands so I protect them when I fall.

Q: What would you say to other young girls who are interested in biking?

Maya: I would say definitely go for it.  It’s scary at first but once you get into the flow it’s really fun. It’s a great way to make friends.

Melinda: I would say do it. It’s the perfect balance of a new challenge and fun. It’s super exciting to be able to complete a race, an obstacle, finish a competition that I never thought I could do. It’s a really rewarding sport and available to all levels. Anybody can do it. Also, it’s a lifelong sport, something you can do forever.

About this sport: For more information on the Niskayuna/Mohawk Mountain Goats Bike Team or to compete and learn cyclocross, contact coach Rizzi by email at

Know a female athlete who competes in adventurous — even obscure — sports? Contact me. • @joyceb10bassett •


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