Fostering Community with Team Orange
Community is all around us, but sometimes it takes a guiding hand to connect us to it. That’s the lesson that Will Unger — mountain bike racer, coach, and Liderato Youth Council member — has learned in seven years growing up with Norte.
It all started for Will in fourth grade, with Adventure Bike Club (then called Bike Más).
“At first, I was completely new to riding,” said Will. “I was actually a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it to East Bay Park, about a mile away.”
Will said part of the problem was that he had no concept of where — or how far away — East Bay Park was.
“I made it to the park that day, and I haven’t looked back since,” he said. “Through biking, I not only gained the physical ability, but I gained an awareness of my community.”
That awareness would grow as Will graduated from Adventure Bike Club to competitive mountain bike racing. Encouraged by his father, Bill, who coached Norte’s varsity team, Will rode with Norte as his mountain bike skills grew. He first took on the Iceman Cometh Challenge in 7th grade and has finished the grueling race three times.
It was a natural progression for Will to turn his passion for riding into coaching and then advocacy.
“I think my first foray into (advocacy) was the proposed Three Mile Road trail,” said Will. “When I was in sixth grade, we rode up Three Mile Road to attend the township board meeting, just to be present and make sure that our voices were heard.”
Around that same time, Will joined the fledgling Liderato Youth Leadership Council, where he still serves today, advocating for better trails and infrastructure for his community. Will and his Liderato colleagues are focused on developing a new, world-class trail system at Hickory Hills. That’s meant attending a lot of meetings — and poring over a lot of trail maps.
“We are actively working to turn those lines on a map into actual trails, with jumps and everything,” said Will. “Currently, my role in that project is to provide the preliminary guidance for trail etiquette, the signage, and how all of these user groups can interact seamlessly and minimize conflict.”
Will calls the Hickory Hills project his “baby” and said he would love nothing more than to see the project “shovel ready” before heading off to college.
Will is a junior at Traverse City Central High School this year. As he ponders his future — and whether or not he’ll race the Iceman again — he works at Wild Card Cycle Works (year one Rad Champion), surrounded by bikes.
“I’m very appreciative of how Norte has impacted my life, “he said. “It’s not necessarily just the physical strength and learning to be a great bike rider. It has also given me what I need to grow as a person. The time with Norte has allowed me to be better connected with my community.”
It’s a community connection, he says, that will last a lifetime.
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