In less than 18 months, 15-year-old Garett Nolan joined USA Cycling, the official governing body for all disciplines of competitive cycling in the United States, and began to compete in mountain biking.
On June 2, the South Williamsport teen took first place in the cross-country category of the junior division for 15- and 16-year-olds at the Bear Creek Mountain Bike Challenge in Macungie.
That placement qualified him for the USA Cycling Cross-Country Mountain Bike National Championships, which will be held Thursday through next Sunday at Bear Creek Resort. More than 1,000 riders will compete.
"I just love the sport so much and it's a passion of mine. I would rather be out riding than anything else," Garett said.
Going into this week's competition, Garett is ranked in second place in the junior division.
His parents describe him as driven and dedicated and say he became drawn to mountain biking by his father, Mike. But, cycling - whether road or mountain - started as a family activity.
His mom, Sue, his dad and his brother, Seth, 20, rode together since Garett was 4 years old.
"We just love to ride," Sue said.
Garett first got a taste of competitive biking during a road race when he was 13. It was a bit of a surprise for the family when he picked up mountain biking competitively.
"He rode with Mike, and they would race just for fun," Sue said.
Garett has a local mentor, Devon DeVito, owner and operator of the Bicycle Center, 909 Main St., South Williamsport.
"I don't have a coach or anything, but he has been taking me out on trails and helped me with my training," Garett said.
DeVito was in Colorado and could not be reached for comment on this story.
From vintage to cutting-edge
Although Garett only has competed about five times, he has traveled all over the state, from Lehigh Valley, Allentown, Penn State and Wellsboro.
Taking his dedication to the next level, Garett mowed grass for close to a year (in a season) and earned enough money to buy a specialized Stump Jumper mountain bike, Sue said.
"It's a pretty expensive bike and it has a lot of components on it. It is a race-level bike I just use for racing," Garett said.
"When you started riding, you were on that old bike and we showed up at the races and they were like, 'Oh my gosh, that is vintage,' " Sue laughed.
Roots and rocks
Garett takes his training very seriously. He is out every day riding the Appalachian Mountains that run from Armstrong Township to Sylvan Dell.
He puts in an average of 20 to 25 miles a day.
"My favorite place is the mountain up off of Skyline Drive," he said. "They are the hardest and toughest; they help me train the most."
He said that area is very technical, which means it's congested with lots of tree roots and rocks and is steep.
"I pretty much go out and do as many hill climbs as I can do," he said.
Climbing is one of Garett's strengths.
When he is out training, he does steep inclines with roots and rocks and he has to find a way over them. That doesn't mean he gets off the bike and pushes it. Instead, he stays on and keeps going and doesn't put his feet down.
When he's out by himself, he said he does get a tad nervous but he quickly blocks it out.
"(I'm) definitely nervous every time. My adrenaline builds up and I just focus on doing what I can do," Garett said.
In a competition, the junior division goes last. During a race, the bikers are released by groups, about a minute apart.
"He starts out and is the last one to go. He passes the guys who go first, that are five or six minutes (ahead), and the race starts up hill," said his dad, Mike.
His dad added that because the mountains are much steeper around here where Garett trains, it gives him an advantage in races.
"The hills are not as steep at a race," he said.
He follows a nutritional regimen that DeVito helped him develop so he has enough calories and energy to train and also does strength training.
"A week before the race, I will cut my mileage down and (go at a) slower pace because that is what the races are," he said.
Garett, who will be in 10th grade this fall at South Williamsport Area High School, also enjoys soccer and basketball. He maintains a 99.3 grade-point average and was selected for the ninth-grade student of the year award.
He also is a leader in his church youth group and races homing pigeons, his mom said.
His parents have asked him to take a day off of his grueling practice schedule, but Garett is driven to train and become better.
"If there is a day I need to take off, I feel like I am just missing something out of my day," he said. "I just like to do it."