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It is a crisp, cold, and sunny March afternoon in upstate New York. As the sun begins to shine through the clouds, clearing a path in Black Rock Forest, my family and I dig the bikes out of winter storage for the first trail ride of the season. Although the wind and bitter cold stings our faces, the challenges are not insurmountable as we each adjust to the lingering winter-like conditions. As I ride, I begin thinking about the dawning of spring and summer, and how every upcoming ride will bring various challenges beyond the wind and snow.

A summer program for young adults with ADHD

The idea to create a summer riding program came to me early in the fall of 2017 after a conversation with a colleague and parent. A fellow mountain bike coach raved about the benefits of mountain biking for his fourteen-year-old son, who was recently diagnosed with ADHD. This father talked with me about how his son’s symptoms drastically improved as a result of a mountain biking program he was involved in. We talked about his son’s improved focus in school, his ability to think through situations before reacting (impulse control), and an improvement in his overall executive function skills. We continued our conversation, and I mentioned my extensive background working with ADHD and dyslexic students. I provided him some tips to try with his son at home in regards to homework, focus, and attentiveness, and we both went on our way.

During my drive back to the Hudson Valley, I began to collect my thoughts from the weekend and a lightbulb moment occurred. I thought of my mountain bike coaching position, and how it relates to my job helping students build executive function skills. As I drove through the beautiful Hudson Valley, I thought, this would be an ideal spot for a summer mountain biking program. The Storm King School borders the Black Rock Forest. We maintain our own mountain bike trails on campus, and have direct access to the Black Rock Forest for hiking, biking, and meditation/mindfulness training. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect spot.

When I finally arrived at home, I turned to the internet and began to research the benefits that exercise has on young adults with ADHD. Early in my search, I discovered the Specialized Foundation Program which works to get students diagnosed with ADHD on mountain bikes for thirty minutes per day. This research was exactly what I was looking for to begin laying the groundwork for this program.

As an experienced educator in the field of dyslexia education and a lifetime bicyclist (first BMX, then mountain and road biking), I began to hone in on creating an academic skills based summer mountain biking program for students with ADHD. With the support of The Storm King School, plans for the two week program, Focused Riding, developed quickly. The program will focus on four areas, including academic skill building, mountain biking fundamentals, and a variety of other programmatic opportunities for students with attentional difficulties. On the last day of the program, our goal is to have riders and students participate in a cyclocross race which they train for, plan, and organize.

Academic skill building

In this section of the program, participants will learn how to organize themselves and their school materials (electronic and paper) for the upcoming school year. Students will also learn reading comprehension strategies and note-taking skills as they complete their required summer reading. This part of the summer will be designed around the executive function skills program taught in the ASP (Academic Support Program) at The Storm King School.

Mountain biking and daily exercise

Riding will take place on a daily basis. Participants will ride on our campus singletrack trail and on the log roads of the Black Rock forest. Students will learn the fundamentals of riding (no specific mountain biking skill is necessary), bicycle maintenance, and basic trail care. Bicycles will be provided, though students have the option to bring their own bikes. We will also take a trip to a location in the Catskills or Adirondacks for a weekend of riding and camping.

Limited electronics

Students will be busy learning, interacting, and engaging with their coaches, teachers, counselors, and peers. Therefore, screen time and social media will be limited. This is summer camp, and we want our riders to be learning, riding, and enjoying the summer.

Healthy meal planning

Students will learn what a healthy meal looks like, and will work with our executive chef to develop daily meal plans to boost energy, maximize performance, and improve focus. As such, processed foods and sugar intake will be limited. Our goal in this area is to help students learn about the mental well-being and overall health benefits of healthy eating.

The mountain biking season will be in full swing at Storm King when spring decides to arrive, with our first team race scheduled for April 22. At that time, in addition to coaching, I will be fully engaged in continuing to develop plans for a variety of students who are building academic skills in the ASP program. Planning for the summer will be a priority as the school year begins to wind down. I am excited to be introducing this summer skill building program to students throughout the country and the world.

Please feel free to contact me for more information (dmendlewski@sks.org) about this or any of the other support programs that The Storm King School provides.

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