On Saturday, 18 middle schoolers set off on a 26-mile bike ride from Anchorage to Eagle River and back.

The bikers are seventh-grade girls from Begich and Stellar, who connect a few times a week to share their passion for riding bicycles. 

The program that makes this possible is called "GRIT", an acronym for "Girls Riding Into Tomorrow," and is the brainchild of Cait Rodriguez and ultra-endurance racer Lael Wilcox. Wilcox grew up in Anchorage and is now looking to give back to her community while inspiring the next generation of athletes in her sport.

“The real concept of this program was it’s something I wish I could have done this when I was 12, so I was like let's do it with them," said Wilcox.
The first woman to win the 4,400-mile Trans Am bike race across the U.S. didn't start biking until she was 20-years-old, entering competitive racing years later. Now, Wilcox mentors 12- to 13-year-old girls to give them confidence as they get set to enter a new phase in life.
“It’s also an age where a lot of young girls stop being active, stop participating in sports," said Wilcox. "So it’s kind of a cool outlet for them to be active, but not necessarily competitive."
It's a perfect program for seventh grader Katlyn Olexa, who enjoys the social benefits as well as the physical.
“I have been having a very good time, and probably the thing I like most about this is meeting more girls from different schools," said Olexa.
Now in its second year, the GRIT program lasts six weeks. It ends with a 45-mile bike ride to Eklutna Lake and a three-day camping trip. Cherry on the cake, the girls get to keep their new bikes courtesy of a generous donation from Wilcox's sponsor "Specialized."
The girls leave GRIT with new friends and new tools while getting to learn from an elite athlete. Wilcox gets to share the sport she loves while empowering pre-teens through action and setting them up for a happy, healthy future.
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