Member Spotlight: Jessica Harmening

Coach Harmening smiling after a bike race.

What is your name and current teaching assignment?
Jessica Harmening, Special Educator, Mountaineer Middle School, Monongalia County (6th grade)

How long have you been a teacher?
I am nearing the end of my 7th year as an educator. Before teaching, I was a counselor for the Upward Bound program and before that, a teacher/ counselor at Pressley Ridge Laurel Park (Clarksburg). I have been working directly with youth in some capacity since 2010.

What got you started into mountain biking?
My dad bought me my first mountain bike, a Trek Mountain Track 820 (solid fork), when I was 11. I did not do much mountain biking at that time, but my dad and I rode the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal when I was 11, and I spent my childhood riding bikes with my friends. I began mountain biking in earnest when I was asked to start a West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League (WVICL) team in 2017. I took a 4 week beginner ladies course with Sue Haywood at Big Bear Lake, and that was the beginning of a life-changing experience!

When did you become a mountain bike coach?
In 2018, I attended WVICL’s first Leaders’ Summit—a training for those who would go on to coach teams that inaugural season. I have been coaching the team ever since.

What is the name of the league with which you are affiliated?
I coach, and I am also the lead coach supporter, for the WVICL. This league is part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). I also coach the Morgantown Trail Hawks!

What are the ages of the student athletes?
We have student athletes ranging from grades 6-12, who come from public or private schools, or who are homeschooled.

What has been the most rewarding part of being a mountain bike coach?
There are so many reasons I love coaching. It’s hard to pick a favorite. I love watching kids grow up, and I love being able to help them learn important life lessons using the bike as a tool. I have witnessed a breathtaking change in student athletes throughout their time on the team.

What has been the most challenging part?
I had to learn how to manage coaches and kids, which was a challenge my first season. Since I am the head coach, I oversee every aspect of the operation of the team. Some of those skills I had to learn in action!

What other roles have you filled within NICA?
I am the lead coach supporter for WVICL, so I get to interact with and train almost all of our MTB coaches in WV. I love it almost as much as coaching the team!

How much have you seen the sport and league grow?
This will be our 5th season as a league. Every season leading up to this one, we have doubled the number of student athletes in the league. I think that trend will continue. My own team lost one student athlete to graduation, but we have gained at least a dozen more and it isn’t even the pre-season yet. The growth of our league and this sport is so exciting!

This year, you started a new and exciting expanded role in the state mountain bike community, tell us about that?
Yes! I was offered the opportunity to step up as executive director of the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association. It’s an exciting position that allows me to become more involved in mountain biking in WV, and also allows me to find more ways to get kids and adults involved in the sport. My main role at this time is operating registration, timing, and officiating for each WVMBA race. There’s a good bit of crossover between WVICL and WVMBA, so I get to see kids and coaches at each race. It feels a lot more like fun than work!

Have you thought about where you would like to take WVMBA or how you see that in the future?
The WVMBA president and I both have a lot of ideas for how we can expand WVMBA. Our goal is to stay true to our racing roots while broadening our reach to take mountain biking further and advocate for all mountain bike groups as a unified voice. We are hoping to create a resource that residents and visitors alike can use to find events and information about riding in our beautiful state.

Would you like to be in the next “Member Spotlight?” If interested, email Staci at swallace@wvea.org.