CHARACTERS 10: DOUG DETWILLER
Story & Interview by Riley McIntosh // Photos by Danielle Baker
|The world is nothing until we paint our own picture of it. We don't describe the world we see, we see the world we describe. - Dudley Weeks: The 8 Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution |
|Doug Detwiller keeps telling us to play. There are ten of us, grown men and women. Doug has laid out yellow cones and created a game for us, a challenge of balance. We are perched on bikes, tire to tire, struggling to stay upright within the confines of a small circle. Once you have lost your equilibrium and put your foot down three times, you are out of the game. Suddenly the field echoes with yelps and laughs as we contend for space in the circle, trying to avoid bumping into each other. Sure, we aren't hitting sick jumps and shredding berms. But it's fun, really fun. Doug is showing us the games he uses to introduce kids to mountain biking. As some of us lose our balance for the third time, the yellow cones are closed in around us and the circle becomes smaller. The challenge increases and the need for good bike control skills becomes a necessity. Ratcheting the pedals, maintaining a well-adjusted body position on the bike, and avoiding the other riders are key to staying upright, but unfortunately I hook my pedal on my friend Will's bike and we both tumble into the soft grass. Everyone is laughing, and Doug encourages it. He is a leader, and he is reminding us that mountain biking is just a way to 'play.' The best part is, we haven't even hit the trails yet. - Riley McIntosh| When did you move to the Sunshine Coast? What drew you there?
|I am constantly running into young adults that tell me about how much fun they had when they were in Sprockids, and how it inspired them to reach for goals they might not otherwise have had the confidence to achieve. This also goes for parents who came out and rode with the club. They talk about how, through mountain biking, they were able to truly connect with their children on a very unique level. Mountain biking is special because parents can actually go on rides with their child. You're not simply driving them to the arena, gym, or playing field and watching them play. You are out there experiencing what they are experiencing. This connection and love of the sport continues throughout their lives. - Doug Detwiller, Founder of Sprockids|
My family has been connected to the Sunshine Coast since 1913, when my grandmother bought some waterfront property on Gower Point. Growing up, I would spend my summers with my cousins at the family camp. As a kid it was a magical time for me. I would spend my days fishing, hiking, and exploring everything the outdoors had to offer. Years later, after completing my degree in Fine Arts I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My cousin was getting her teaching degree and suggested I do the same. The idea of being a teacher had never been something I had considered, but it turned out I found it extremely rewarding working with young people. Upon completion of my training, I originally was going to move to Nelson, but was offered a job teaching in Gibsons. Moving to the Sunshine Coast was a no brainer! The Coast had always been my second home and it just seemed like the natural thing to do. That was in 1979. After teaching on the Coast for 34 years I retired at the end of June 2013. Describe the very first mountain bike activity you did with some students, what did you guys do? Whose bikes did you use? Was it easy to convince the school principal that your idea made good sense for the students?
I was personally getting into mountain biking and wanted to pass on the experience to my students, so I announced that there would be a meeting for any students in Grades 4-7 interested in mountain biking. I had 200 students turn up and from that moment on I knew this “Mountain Biking thing” was very special. At that point I didn’t have any loaner bikes so I could only work with the students who had their own bikes. I formed the “Gibsons Elementary MTB Club.” We would ride at recess and at lunch. The club had a solid core of 50 riders. I also realized that I needed to create a stockpile of bikes and helmets that students who could not afford their own bike could borrow. I wanted to make sure that all students could participate regardless of their financial situation. Sprockids is all about involving everyone. The mantra is: “Nobody Sits on the Bench.” As for my Principal I have been very fortunate to have administrators who understood that education is much more than teaching out of a text book. My principal also saw that I was reaching out and connecting with a lot of the students that were not functioning well within the typical structure of the school system. I was providing them with an outlet for their anger and frustration, while teaching them the skills, values, and strategies to succeed in school and in life. What were the students' reactions?
For many of the students this was the first time they had experienced success in an athletic endeavour. They were having fun, and you could see their confidence building every time they got on their bikes. We were discovering the world of mountain biking together and all of the positive energy and fun that went with it! All of a sudden these young riders were getting together on their own and riding after school and on weekends. When did the Sprockids bike park jump onto your radar screen? Were there already existing trails in the area? Who did you have to get permission from to build trails? Whose land are the trails on?
As the program began to expand I really wanted to establish a permanent area that was dedicated to mountain biking. This was 1992 and I had this idea for a “Teaching Skills Park” with the central area having simple features and obstacles where beginning riders could be taught basic bike handling skills in a controlled and safe environment. Radiating from this central skills area I envisioned a series of single track trails that would incorporate both natural and constructed features providing an opportunity for the riders to put their newly acquired riding skills to the test. These trails would vary in difficulty, but every feature would have an alternate way around enabling riders of all levels to ride together. So in 1992 I was on the lookout for an area that was easily accessible and would allow me to construct such a park. I discovered the old “Gibsons Landfill” which had a lot of the features I was looking for. So I approached the SCRD (Sunshine Coast Regional District) with my proposal and they liked the concept and we formed a partnership which continues today. Many of the trails that radiate from the central core of the park are on crown land. We applied for trail building permits from the B.C. government and were granted a number of these. These trails are now official recreational trails and if logging ever took place they are protected. It was always a dream of mine to establish an officially permanent recognized mountain bike park and trail system for the Sunshine Coast. Today the “Sprockids Mountain Bike Park” serves as the “Gateway” to the incredible trail system on the Coast. The park was one of, if not the first officially recognized dedicated mountain bike parks in Canada, and probably North America. It has served as the blue print for many other communities. The park was totally built and maintained by volunteers. It has gone through a number of rebuilds and changes to reflect the changes and advancements in the sport. The spirit of volunteerism continues today. The park continues to be a work in progress, as does the Sprockids Program. Who else was intimately involved with Sprockids in the early days? Other teachers? Local riders? Parents? Trail builders?
The saying "Being in the right place at the right time" really is true to when it came to developing the Sprockids philosophy, the building of the Sprockids Mountain Bike Park and the trail system connected to it. The Sunshine Coast has always been a very special and magical place. The resident population is extremely diversified, but we all share a common love of the outdoors. Industry and recreation, for the most part are able to coexist. Back when I was starting Sprockids, the mountain biking community was quite small, but it was a very dynamic one. The mountain biking scene was exploding and the camaraderie, energy, and excitement was intoxicating. As more and more kids were joining Sprockids I started to organize work parties to develop the park. At the time, Glen Illingworth, Graham McDonald and John Neufeld were three of the main people building trails. All of them became involved with the park and many of the trails were laid out and built under their guidance. We would make the trail building days an event, complete with a BBQ and draw prizes. In later years these trail building volunteer days would draw around 90 people with three generations of riders being represented! Getting the young people involved in the planning, building, and maintenance of the park and the trails has always been a huge part of the Sprockids Program. Young people are our most important and powerful advocacy group. When young people get involved, society is thrilled to see youth giving back and the access to the woods open up. I also believe that it is very important for young people to take ownership of their environment. As for the program itself other teachers began to express interest in what I was doing. I start to put my ideas down on paper with the concept of developing a resource manual. To say I was “consumed” by the project was an understatement. I was teaching Grade 6/7 at Gibsons Elementary. Each morning I would get up between 3:00 and 4:00 AM and work on a section of the manual. I would then be at school around 6:30 AM to prepare for the day of teaching. Every day our school secretary, Nancy Miller would take my scribbled manuscript, organize the material, correct my spelling, grammar, and sentence structure, handing me back a polished work worthy of sharing with others. Without her help I wouldn’t have been able to produce the first manual. Sprockids has influenced so many kids over the years.....are there any stories, memories, or particular kids who really stand out for you?
As a teacher and Sprockids Leader I have always thought of myself as a Mentor for young people, hopefully a positive one. When you connect with a young person whose life is in chaos and you are able to help empower them to change the course of their life I can’t imagine a greater happiness. However, on the flip side when you know that you have lost an individual it is extremely devastating. Sprockids has provided my life with an activity where I can really connect with a huge number of young people in a very real and positive way. Sprockids is all about involving young people in a life-long healthy lifestyle while teaching them the skills, values, and strategies to succeed. I have been blessed to work with so many unique and special individuals. One of the most rewarding situations, and one I am very proud of is currently happening in Israel. A few years ago I was brought over to Israel to train 85 Sprockids Leaders. Since that visit Sprockids has been incorporated into a variety of delivery models. One situation is where low income Israeli and Palestinian youths were brought together to be part of a Sprockids Program. The idea was that through Sprockids these kids would come together and learn how to mountain bike. Through riding and learning together the hope was they would see each other as fellow human beings, sharing a common activity before the ingrained mistrust of their parents could take hold of them. Understanding, accepting, and celebrating their successes together was a big step in making this a reality. Peace through mountain biking! What a concept!!! What’s next for Sprockids?
As I get older I believe more and more in Karma. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is challenging and can be a little scary, no matter what your age. Last June I retired from 34 years of teaching on the Sunshine Coast, moved to the North Shore and entered a partnership with Giant Bicycles Canada. Talk about mixing things up! All three of these changes have proven to be incredibly positive and have rejuvenated my passion and drive to take Sprockids to the next level! Working with the team at Giant Bicycles Canada has been amazing. All of the individuals working at their head office in North Vancouver are extremely dedicated to getting young people on bikes, while creating vibrant cycling communities across Canada. As a team we have been working together to revamp, update, and create new material for the program. Over the course of 2014 there is going to be some very exciting new material being produced. We have a new logo, website, instructional material, leader training program, and participant schwag! I will be visiting Giant Dealers across Canada to train their staff on running a successful Sprockids Program in their specific area. This will create a truly unified national mountain biking program across Canada.
Another project I’m very involved with is “The Aboriginal Youth Mountain Biking Program.” In 2012, I teamed up with Patrick and Paul Lucas. Patrick, who is a community planner, had been working with First Nations for years and saw the need for a program that would involve their young people in a healthy lifestyle. For many of the rural communities, where access to organized sports wasn’t readily available, mountain biking seemed to provide the solution. The Sprockids Program was a natural fit, and would provide the instruction material, incentive, and guidance to assist the community to develop their trails, build a skills park, and teach the riding skills to enable the participants to enjoy mountain biking in a safe and fun manner. With a grant from MEC we have been able to work with a number of First Nation communities to begin developing a cycling community that would reflect their own unique culture. Many of the Native Elders see mountain biking, and the establishment of a trail system as a way to reconnect with their traditional territories. I truly believe the Aboriginal Youth Mountain Biking Program will play a major role in helping young First Nations’ youth discover and develop their talents and enable them to succeed. Internationally the Sprockids Program is now happening in 20 countries, with the latest program being introduced in Panama. In Australia the original Sprockids manual is being used as the foundation for their “Dirt Schools” program. What makes the Sunshine Coast so special to you? How do the riding and trails there compare to other places you've been?
The Sunshine Coast has always been a part of my life. The population of the Coast is composed of a very eclectic and diversified group of individuals that share a common love of the outdoors. The remoteness that the ferry crossing creates is both a blessing and a curse. The Sunshine Coast has remained somewhat forgotten by the population of Vancouver. We have been able to go about our lives without too much interference from the rules and regulations of the bureaucratic machine that dictated the lives of those living in a more urban area. This is particularly true with regards to trail building. Mount Elphinstone was our playground and we were free to develop our craft. From the early years we worked with the various user groups such as the hikers, back country horsemen, ATV riders, as well as the loggers and other businesses associated with the forest. We also developed a protocol regarding trail building with the Provincial Government that served as a blue-print for other communities.
The Sunshine Coast is known for its flowing single track. Many of the trails have been designed as to allow them to be ridden in both directions. Over the years various areas of the Coast have evolved into their own unique style of riding. The Roberts Creek area has been adopted by the downhill riders and they have built a number of downhill specific trails catering to the shuttling crowd. It has been fun to see kids who I’ve worked with in the past, like Dylan and Curtis from the Coastal Crew, make a living just from mountain biking! For me, I love the sense of adventure when I ride the trails. You can ride all day and rarely do you come across another rider. The single track trails wind their way through the forest and every once and awhile you pop out into a clearing, where you are rewarded with a spectacular view of Vancouver Island. Riding on the Coast is a very spiritual experience. When you find yourself high up on Mt. Elphinstone surrounded by nature one cannot help being drawn into the beauty and tranquility of the West Coast Rain forest. For me this is why the Coast will always be a special place. Living on the West Coast of Canada we are truly blessed with such a variety of riding experiences within our grasp. Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, North Shore, Squamish, Whistler, and Pemberton are all our play grounds and present us with their own unique experiences. How blessed are we? Looking back on what you've accomplished in the last 30 years with Sprockids, what would you say the biggest lesson would be that you've taken from the journey? What exactly does it all mean to you now?
Sprockids started out as a simple idea on how to help connect my students with their studies. From there, the program took on a life of its own. It has taken me on an incredible journey and everyday it opens new doors, providing me with new challenges and experiences. In life, I truly believe a person reaches a higher level of personal fulfilment and happiness when they are wanting to give back to society. Sprockids has provided me with a way to do just that. Knowing the program has helped a lot of young people discover their personal talents, and give them the confidence to go after their dreams is extremely rewarding for me. On a personal level mountain biking has allowed me to continue to enjoy the kid inside of me. I love to get out there and ride through the puddles, mud, and push myself to try something outside of my comfort zone. So many adults are afraid to allow themselves to get out there and play. I love to turn anyone on to the mountain biking lifestyle. Today I find myself doing Sprockids with adults, who are looking for an activity to fill a void they have in their lives. "Sprockids for Retirees.” What a concept!! I am extremely excited about the future for Sprockids. I believe our society is desperately looking for an activity to address the issue of inactivity among our youth. Mountain biking could be the solution, and Sprockids is the program to delivery it. Everyday I wake up at 5:00 AM excited to work on the program. Work is the wrong word, because I love what I do. How lucky am I!Doug Detwiller would like to thank: Giant Bicycles Canada, OGC (Outdoor Gear Canada), Hayes Bicycle Group, Ryders Eyewear, and Pedal Magazine for continuing to provide product and support to Sprockids.
Riley McIntosh is a mountain biker from Maple Bay on Vancouver Island. After a decade of living in Nelson, he returned home to the land of year round riding conditions. He loves meeting new people and exploring fresh trails, which the Characters series helps him do. Riley sincerely hopes the readers of Pinkbike enjoy Characters and would like to thank everyone involved for their participation. Danielle Baker is a writer and photographer who enjoys long walks in the rain, riding her bike, and shots of tequila. Growing up without electricity or running water, Danielle found a great appreciation for all things nature which eventually led her to her love of mountain biking, and fear of whales. You can find Danielle's articles and photos on pinkbike.com and at daniellebaker.com.
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Characters #2 - Bill McLane
Characters #3 - Tig Cross and Sasha LeBaron
Characters #4 - Mark Holt
Characters #5 - Kevin Eskelin
Characters #6 - James Doerfling and Kenny Smith
Characters #7 - Tara Llanes
Characters #8 - Andreas Hestler
Characters #9 - Linden Feniak