The third annual Women’s Commission Girls Summer Camp happened between the 23rd and the 25th of June this year. The 18 campers from all over the country were faced with biblical downpours, intense wind and even fire over the 3 days. The camp is designed to give the young women a taste of all cycling has to offer: track, mountain biking, and racing. Iniatially planned to run over 4 days, this years camp was cut to three for the most dramatic of reasons!
It began on Monday morning with a skills workshop in Corkagh Park at 10am led by multiple national medallist and international rider Mel Spath, with camp graduate and multiple junior national medallist Naoise Sheridan. They had the campers bouncing off each other, shouldering each other, cornering and riding in ever decreasing circles to get the girls comfortable rising close to each other, building confidence riding in a bunch.
Valerie Considine and Orla Hendron then joined Mel and Naoise to bring the girls up to Kippure Adventure Centre up in the Dublin mountains, taking in many tough and famous local climbs along the way, including the gruelling Cruagh Hill. They then had a well deserved lunch, capping off a tough 4 hours on the bike for the campers. After lunch, they took part in the adventure centre activities, including the terrifying ‘Leap of Faith’ – where they had to climb up a pole and leap onto a trapeze bar (harnessed up but still well out of the comfort zone!) amongst other things. One of the activities, a team building exercise proved more useful to the group than anyone could have imagined… The girls were placed in a simulated plane crash, and tasked with finding the black box. But they could only step on a certain number of things in their search, and had to follow specific instructions to carry out the task. They excelled in the task, the instructor saying they got it much quicker than almost all adult groups, succeeding on only their second attempt. They took on direction and instruction and worked well together outside their comfort zones yet again, the willingness to do so becoming something of a theme of the camp! The day finished off with a barbeque, indoors because of the rain, another running theme of the camp.
Tuesday was an early start, with campers and bikes loaded up and off to Ballinatoe for some mountain biking. Current cyclocross national champion Beth McClusky and Mel Spath took the more experienced girls off for three hours up the mountains, whilst multiple national medal winner Janos Koehler had the beginners flying round full of confidence in no time. The rain hit again and the girls decamped back to Kippure for some R + R before heading off to Corkagh Park to take part in the women’s crit racing series. The weather started off ok, and both ability groups (A’s and B’s) set off in handicaps. The race quickly came together, the campers very much at home and mixing it with extremely fast and experienced racers before truly biblical conditions descended. The rain absolutely bucketed it down, but this did not dampen the competitive spirits of the girls, however the race had to be called off just 17 minutes in. The young women bailed to the nearby Green Isle Hotel to change, warm up and dry off a bit before heading back to Kippure again, where the epic dry out began! Stuff was hung out in every possible place in an effort to dry everything out, before a late supper and a very well deserved sleep!
Wednesday had been earmarked as a track day, and started out promisingly enough with the campers getting up early and making pancakes in their accommodation. Shortly after pancaking procedures were well under way, a fire alarm went off in the main building, opposite where the girls were staying, accompanied by some wispy smoke from the chimney. A staff member was spotted bringing buckets of water inside to quench the fire, with increasing urgency. The decision was made to pack everything up in case of evacuation. The girls sprang into super organised action, the team building exercise on the Monday paying dividends. They worked like a well-oiled machine and had everything ready and in the vans and cars well before they were officially told by staff to evacuate. By this stage the fire had taken hold, and three fire engines attended the scene. The function room of the main building and the roof were badly damaged in the fire, and the proximity of the damage to the accommodation meant that they could not return to it that night, cutting the camp short by one night. The original plan had been to cycle from Kippure to Corkagh the next morning where the girls could be collected and brought home. High drama intervened!
After such a dramatic start to the day, the girls came to Sundrive Velodrome ready for whatever track riding could throw at them! The weather had other ideas however, and the initial track session was rained off. All was not lost though, as Naoise Sheridan had planned a roller session for the young women and this got underway. Under Naoise’s instruction, all participants were riding with no hands on the rollers by the end of the session, no easy feat!
The weather cleared and coach Paddy Davis took the beginners through the accreditation process, with Hendron and Mark Kiely taking the more experienced girls on their own session, initially focussing on skills but becoming very competitive in the end! Rain hit again and the group headed into the clubhouse where Genevieve Sheridan and Pauline Russell had prepared lunch.
After lunch, Pauline led the group in the ancient Chinese art of Qi Gong, followed by a strength and conditioning session led by Naoise, a session picked up from another camp graduate Nicole Evans at the February camp.
The track league runs on Wednesday nights and the girls lined up in various categories for a go. After a long day, everyone raced every single race in their respective groups in the league, doing very well. A great nights racing was had by all.
Barring pretty extreme conditions, the camp went extremely well. The girls were extremely impressive, a really fantastic bunch of young women, who never complained, even after being absolutely soaked to the skin repeatedly. They gelled well as a bunch, not everyone knew each other in the beginning, and their cohesion was tested by extreme weather conditions and fire! They worked really well as a team, and a good atmosphere reigned over the whole camp.
Thanks must go to Kippure Adventure Centre and biking.ie for their support. The next camp is scheduled for November, a group trip to an indoor Velodrome in Alkamaar, and watch this space for something mountain bike shaped in the winter!
Thanks to Naoise Sheridan for all the photos!