HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)- Nearly two dozen mountain bike racing teams landed in the Rocket City for a one-of-a-kind race on Sunday morning. They said they learned lessons along the way that got them to this point.
Bubbly 8th Grader Katie Soto's love for riding hasn't changed since she hopped on a mountain bike 8 years ago. But, she said the ride ended up changing her.
"Before I was actually really shy before I did all of this," Madison Trailblazer's Soto said.
She said biking put the brakes to her bashfulness.
"I didn't like talking a lot to people, I barely spoke in class, so when I did this I got to learn how to socialize," Soto said.
Not only has Soto grown as a person through mountain biking, she's grown as an athlete too.
"I raced freshman in 7th grade last year too and hopefully next year I can move up," Soto said.
She's one of the many students from across Alabama gearing up for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association's Alabama League Space Race. It's the first time a NICA-sanctioned race launched at the US Space & Rocket Center.
"It's awesome," Huntsville Rockets' Jessie Simpson said. "I mean, we get to ride through the Space & Rocket Center and like, this is my home course so I think I'll do a lot better."
This is the third race in NICA's series of 5. Simpson said to make it through, you have to push yourself through the challenges that await.
"It takes mental strength and mental body strength to get through it," Simpson said.
Regardless of how they finish the race, the students said the ride leading up to the starting line is more important.
"I think the key is just being nice to people," Soto said.
"Usually we work together, work hard and give it all we got," Buckhorn High School's Carson Spires said. "It's just about what you put into the race."
The NICA racers' next challenge is the Rumble on the Ridge in Pelham in 2 weeks. The Alabama League provides mountain biking programs for students in grades 6 through 12.
For more information, visit www.alabamamtb.org.