Family Bonds Over Love of Mountain Biking

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Media by Matthew Jesperson

Tanner Jesperson, junior, rides over an obstacle on a trail at Castlewood State Park. “Racing is very dangerous, and it is definitely not for the faint of heart,” Tanner said. “However, I think it is important to just keep hopping back onto the bike and tackling the challenge again and again. It is the only way you can grow.” Tanner, along with his siblings, compete in mountain bike races with the Rockwood Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA).

Racing down the trails at Castlewood State Park, Tanner Jesperson, junior, quickly realised something was wrong. 

During his first ride mountain biking, he and his dad had taken a wrong turn onto a much more difficult trail where he ended up crashing with his leg stuck in the bike and was forced to walk the rest of the mile and a half trail to avoid injuries.

Though he had this rough start over five years ago, through practice and determination Tanner developed a love for the sport.

“It has definitely taken a long time to get to where I am today,” Tanner said. “It has taught me a lot about grit, perseverance, overcoming fears and not giving up.”

Tanner, along with the rest of his family, have been mountain biking together for years on various courses around the country. They used their free time during the pandemic to build their own trial in the woods behind their house.

“It was a great family project to tackle during the pandemic and it definitely brought us closer together,” Tanner said.

Though he sees it as a positive family venture, Tanner said mountain biking often proves to be dangerous with crashes resulting in scrapes and bruises or worse. 

“The biggest challenges I have overcome are mental blocks,” Tanner said. “Some of the stuff you do on a mountain bike can be pretty scary, but sometimes you just have got to trust yourself. My Dad always says, ‘If you don’t have any scratches at the end of the ride, were you even trying?’”

Like any activity, don’t try to do too much too soon. You’ll likely get hurt and discouraged, so I don’t put any pressure on my kids. It’s all about exploring and having fun. The best rider in the world is simply the one having the most fun.”

— Matthew Jesperson

Tanner began to develop his passion for mountain biking after his family moved to Missouri, and his father, Matthew Jesperson, reignited an old passion for the sport. Matthew grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, surrounded by mountains, and mountain biking served as a childhood pastime for him. 

Matthew said his family has always been big fans of the outdoors, and they found the terrain in the St. Louis area to be hilly with deep enough forests to create fast and enjoyable trails.

“You’ve got to get out on the bike consistently to improve, so we ride together as much as we can,” Matthew said.

Over time, the design of mountain bikes themselves have improved, allowing riders to take on more challenging courses, and Matthew said it is exhilarating to have been able to watch his kids experience the thrill of riding and to work with them along the way. 

“Like any activity, don’t try to do too much too soon. You’ll likely get hurt and discouraged, so I don’t put any pressure on my kids,” Matthew said. “It’s all about exploring and having fun. The best rider in the world is simply the one having the most fun.” 

Kate Jesperson, freshman, has taken her love of mountain biking to the next level as she is a part of The Rockwood Composite Vipers, a team that is a part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). 

The group is composed of both middle school and high school students and competes against other NICA teams on the weekends. Kate said she can have practice for this team up to three times during the week, and would love to practice more on her own, but her other time commitments leave  her missing practices. 

“I am trying to do my best that I can with being able to go to the practices, so I am not always able to make it to every single one,” Kate said. “The practices I am able to make it to are super fun.”

Though she is passionate about the sport, Kate said often times it can become frustrating having to explain the concept of biking on trails versus biking on actual mountains.

“A lot of the time in these situations they don’t really get how cool yet dangerous this sport that I do is, which is always a kind of a bummer,” Kate said.

Growing up having ridden with her family, Kate said stepping into a team environment was stepping into a male dominated arena. With only four girls on her team of 40-60 people, she has been able to stand out and impress her fellow teammates. 

Kate said she has received lots of compliments on her talent, as many people are surprised to see her taking on as difficult trails as she does as a girl on the team.

“It’s cool that they are impressed, but I wish that they wouldn’t act all surprised all the time,” Kate said. “We can totally do anything they do, if not better in some cases.”