Rhode Island Teen is Selected for JAM Fund Grant Award
Above photo by Alice Johannen
Erik Carlson dreams of becoming a rocket scientist. This summer, the 17 year old from Greenwich, Rhode Island started basic training at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs where he will study aerospace engineering. As part of his acceptance into the Academy, Carlson is required to play a sport. But when he first applied, he wasn’t sure if the Academy would accept cyclocross.
“The Academy weighs your application on whether you played a sport in high school like football,” Carlson said. “It was in the middle of cross season, and I told them I really want to race cross. I want to make something more of bike riding. It is the best sport ever, and if it was going to jeopardize my entrance into the Academy, I said, heck with it.”
Fortunately, the Academy agreed to accept cyclocross as a sport. JAM Fund is pleased to help support Carlson’s passion by awarding him a JAM Fund Grant. He is one of 13 grant recipients to receive the award of financial or equipment assistance.
“This spring I applied to JAM Fund, and I got the grant, which is amazing,” he said.
Carlson started riding bicycles when he was 3 years old.
“Cycling was a family activity where we’d go out every weekend and ride around the pond by Big River Management Area,” he said. “I started riding every day three or four years ago.”
By the time he was in high school, he started racing mountain bikes, but he also played football and hockey.
“I was goalie and not as good as other goalies,” he said.
Carlson competed in his first cyclocross race in winter 2014, as he was finishing his junior year in high school. But he didn’t have a cross bike.
“I went to my first race at the Battle of Burlingame and I was riding a 26” hardtail that I bought on Craigslist," he said. "And that was my do-everything bike."
And so, he rode the mountain bike at his first-ever cross race, the NBX of Cross.
“I hadn’t heard of cross before and didn’t know anyone, so I was getting into it blindly," he said. "I saw Matt, the owner of NBX, and he said I could race this on a mountain bike. I decided I was going to try it, and I loved it. It was the last race of the year, so I didn’t do any other cross races that season.”
Carlson raced in the men’s Category 4/5.
“It was a massive field with 100-some riders,” he said. “I was in the back of the pack, and it was my first time ever experiencing cross. I didn’t finish poorly, I got like 80th. It wasn’t anything to write home about, none of my results are, but I wanted to see what this sport was. When I do poorly at a race, it makes me more motivated, and I want to strive to be so much better at it.”
Last year, Carlson was at the NBX race again, and this time he noticed JAM Fund.
“I remember seeing the truck. It was my first time there,” he said. “And then I remember learning about Ellen Noble and realizing she rode for JAM Fund. And it clicked- oh wow, cyclocross in New England is huge.”
Carlson raced a lot last season and had hoped to go to Cyclocross National Championships in Asheville, North Carolina, but it was the same week as his midterm exams. So he watched the races on his laptop.
“I watched nationals while I was doing my AP Chemistry homework,” he said. “I watched a race and then went back to homework and then watched more of the race and back and forth it took me five hours to do my homework that night.”
Carlson took Advanced Placement Chemistry, Physics and Calculus at East Greenwich High School, where he graduated last month. He played football and hockey but gave up both of those sports for his real love, cycling.
Carlson is not only a rider but a cycling advocate. He helped start the New England High School Cycling Association at his school.
“I was the only student in my school who enjoyed mountain biking, and I wanted to see more juniors in mountain biking and cross,” he said. “My biology teacher Christopher Wren was a mountain biker who got me into mountain biking, and he and I held assemblies and showed kids in the high school what mountain biking is. We got about 20 kids in our school to sign up for the league. And sometimes I had to talk to their parents and tell them it’s not as dangerous as you think. My biggest contribution was that I was able to get kids out on bikes who would not normally give it a try.”
The grant that Carlson received is largely funded by supporters and the JAM Fund’s biggest fundraiser, the Grand Fundo, which is a one-day scenic ride in Western Massachusetts. This year’s ride is on July 16, where grant recipients will find out details of their award. The public is invited to join the Grand Fundo and attend the post-ride barbecue and awards ceremony. Registration is at bikereg.com.
A full list of current and past JAM Fund grant winners is at http://www.jamcycling.org/grant-recipients/.