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Ride and Learn: Mars Hill College
By Imelda March
Date: 2/16/2011
Ride and Learn: Mars Hill College

Mars Hill College was founded as the French Broad Baptist Institute in Madison County in 1856. The college was chartered by the State of North Carolina in 1859 following its founding by some dedicated but struggling local families who wanted their children educated and instructed in the Baptist faith.

Mars Hill College Cycling program director, Hugh Moran took some time to answer to few of our questions regarding their collegiate cycling program.

DP: Who is an ideal candidate for your academic/cycling program?

Hugh: We are interested in all levels of ability. Most important is commitment to continuous improvement and dedication to being an excellent teammate, both on and off the bike. Talent is of course welcome and we'll put it to good use, but character traits are more important. If those are in place, we can develop talent. Those who come from different athletic backgrounds are encouraged to apply; we have quite a few "walk-ons" on the team right now. As with most endeavors, you get out what you put in. We have lots of opportunities for those who are willing to do the hard work and be fully present teammates.

DP: Does Mars Hill College offer collegiate cycling scholarships? If so, what are the cycling scholarship distribution levels (floor and ceiling)?

Hugh: Yes, we have given scholarships to cyclists since our program began in 2008. They've typically been in the $2,000 to $4,000 range per year/per athlete.

DP: Is equipment provided to the athletes or are they expected to contribute to the costs of purchasing their own equipment?

Hugh: Riders are expected to show up with bikes/equipment and to provide their own racing license. Once they have fulfilled those obligations, Mars Hill Collegiate Cycling program steps in and takes care of: entry fees, travel, lodging, food, race food, team kits, etc.

The team did purchase three new cyclocross bikes last fall to encourage more women to try this discipline. They loved it and ended up being key factors in the team winning our conference and placing 2nd at the 2010 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships. In short, we do whatever we can to make sure that you have the tools necessary for success. We do have some equipment deals through local bike shop sponsors and access to wholesale pricing on equipment and gear.

DP: Typically, a B.A. /B.S. take about four years to complete? However, do all your athletes finish their degrees on time? Or is the average more like five years as they enjoy their environments and student life? What is your cycling program graduation rate?

Hugh: Our cyclists tend to be excellent students. Our team's current average GPA (grade point average) is 3.4. Our students are more likely to finish early than late.

Our first scholarship athlete will get his degree in 3.5 years. We have three seniors who will graduate in May 2011, our first to graduate. So far we have 100% retention in the cycling program. That said, if you want to take five years to complete a program, that's fine. There's no pressure from us to finish on time or early, but we do expect academic effort to equal athletic effort.

DP: Do you actively recruit? If so, is there a part of the country where you have more of a focus?

Hugh: Yes, we actively recruit. Right now our primary focus is on recruiting more women and growing that segment of the team. Women only make up 17% of all collegiate cyclists, yet they're incredibly important in having a balanced and winning program. Not to downplay the efforts of the men--they're a critical component too--but it's the women who have traditionally been overlooked in cycling, so we're really try to change that here by offering them increased opportunities.

We recruit from all over the world. Currently, we have international athletes on the team from Serbia, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Zimbabwe, and Germany. Our domestic riders come from all over the U.S. but tend to come from the eastern half. We welcome applicants from any part of the world. It's maybe a little strange but we don't have too many from our home state of North Carolina. We would love to see more local additions, and the team looks to play an active role in creating more access to the sport at a junior and high school level, especially in the Western North Carolina region.

DP: What differentiates your cycling program from the others?

Hugh: We have an incredible location for cycling. Mars Hill College is surrounded by endless miles of excellent road training in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains We have the big mountains and can ride to the top of Mt. Mitchell (highest point east of the Mississippi) and back in about five hours. But we also have some flatter roads along rivers, some undulating rolling terrain, and some super steep short climbs.

Mars Hill is a small town so these great roads are right out your residence hall doors. But Asheville, NC is only 18 miles away and offers so much in the way of culture, arts, music, food, and entertainment. Plus the local cycling community is quite large and very supportive. There are many group ride and training race options.

Our team has made a commitment to racing in all four disciplines--road, mountain, cyclo-cross, and track. Not many schools do that. We want to provide racing for everyone's specialty and also allow our athletes to branch out and try out new aspects of the sport. The mountain bike trails in Western North Carolina (WNC) are fantastic, and we're working on building our own trail system on school property.

The cyclo-cross season in the State of North Carolina is huge. You can race every weekend from September to February. And we have a local cycling track at the Mellowdrome in Ashville. It was one of the first NASCAR tracks but has been repurposed for bikes and has fixed-gear racing. Finally, all of our local sponsors are eco-friendly companies; I don't think any other collegiate team can say that.

We are proud of our sponsors and of our community and make it a priority to connect with the local community in as many ways as possible.

Learn more about Mars Hill College Cycling.


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About the author: Imelda March lives in Chicago and is a member of Team Kenda. She is a frequent contributor to The Daily Peloton Cycling News team, reporting on women’s cycling issues and general peloton ramblings. Imelda is an experienced racer who also holds an MBA and is a marketing strategy expert.

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