Indy-based Nine13 Sports gets kids moving on bikes

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Getting kids on bikes is what Nine13 Sports is all about. 

The program takes bikes mounted on indoor training racks to students. The goal is to create a fun environment where young people are energized by moving and improving their overall health and endurance.

"We think the bike is the ultimate equalizer, so it allows us to take kids from all shapes sizes and backgrounds and create a relatively level playing field," said co-founder Tom Hanley. 

Nearly 60,000 people have interacted with Nine13 bikes and now there are 200 schools and youth programs on the waiting list.

"We've had a ton of momentum in 2016. It's been pretty unbelievable. We've been joking that we've been the four year overnight success," said Hanley.

Each set up consists of eight bikes, eight mounts, and a television monitor and costs approximately $50,000.

Setting up class is labor intensive work. Staffers load all the bikes and monitor in a trailer, travel to the students and haul the gear inside. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade from forty schools ride in Nine13 programs. During the summer, riding continues at Boy's and Girl's Clubs.

Funding comes through corporate partnerships and grants. Recent successes include landing a $50,000 grant from The Lids Foundation. The Lilly Endowment and Indiana Sport Corporation are invested, too.

Learn more about Nine13 Sports

The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization has office space and a permanent bike set up at Shortridge High School. It's where sophomore Christian Williams, 16, signed up to ride during his school day.

"It challenges you and a lot of kids like to be pushed," Williams said.

The riders pedal through 20 different courses, ranging in age-appropriate length and difficulty.
Their bikes are hooked up to a digital program where they can track their progress compared to their peers.

"I come in like last 7th, 6th, 8th place a lot," said Donna Johnson, a sophomore at Shortridge.

Johnson likes the challenge to improve, survive the hills and valleys and complete the course.

"Even when they finish, they are still encouraging you, so you are like, 'I can do it! I can finish it!" Johnson said.

Finishing the race teaches perseverance. 

"I like the fact that it challenges you mentally, because at first you come in about halfway through, you are like, 'Oh, I cannot do this,' then you have to push yourself to the end," said Williams.

Hanley estimates Nine13 is the first bike experience for about ten percent of the students.

"We want to them to think about the bike as a tool for transportation and exercise and fitness and being able play and being able to get to work. As Indianapolis has put huge resources into becoming this incredible friendly bike community, it's really important for us to see that we are connecting with the next generation that will be able to utilize that," Hanley said.

The name "Nine13" represents co-founder Tom Hanley's September 13th birthday. It's reveals how personal the program is to him, but gives no indication of the rocky start that traces back to June 5, 2010.

It was Hanley's most traumatic day. He went from bliss to bereaved in a moment.

Hanley was on a shuttle bus with his bride-to-be and wedding party heading to take photos. The shuttle driver ran a light in downtown Indianapolis and collided with a SUV. Fourteen people, nearly everyone in the wedding party, was injured. Hanley's groomsman and best friend Jim Douglas, 29, died.

"He was 6 years older than me. He was the big brother I never had," Hanley said. 

A low key wedding in a conference room at Methodist Hospital followed. The couple exchanged vows and prayed for a life suddenly lost.

"That definitely was a life-changing experience and really made me ask myself what role I wanted to play in the community," Hanley said.

Hanley's injuries, a traumatic brain injury and two broken vertebra, ended his elite cycling career. Ultimately, the marriage didn't last either. Three years after they exchange vows, Hanley's wife filed for divorce.

Hanley continue his work to expand Nine13 and use his expertise to instill a love for cycling in young people.

The goal is to triple capacity by the end of 2016, serving 160 school program days and 40 community event days. The expansion means purchasing new gear, hiring more instructors, and landing more sponsorships. Each new operations team with equipment and staffing costs approximately $150,000 a year to operate.

More momentum means more riders and more lives impacted. 

Johnson first rode bikes in junior high school. She says her progress, confidence and health today have benefited.

"I have more endurance and I'm able to do it longer, better, faster," Johnson said.

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