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Rebecca’s Private Idaho Cyclist Has Message for Riders
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Sean Pfalzgraf and Joey Baar have their sights set on Sunday’s race.
   
Saturday, September 2, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Joey Baar spent his childhood battling a heart murmur and leukemia. But, even as he overcame those,  he was confronted with the constant refrain of “you can’t” from peers and others due to Down syndrome.

Now 22, the young man from Sarasota, Fla., just completed a 31-mile Gravel Worlds bike ride in Central Nebraska a year after learning to ride a bicycle. And on Sunday he will take his place at the starting line of Rebecca’s Private Idaho, one of the nation’s premier gravel bike events now in its 11th year.

“The ride in Nebraska was awesome,” said Baar as he, his family and coaches got settled in Ketchum. “I love being on a bike—I like the downhills the best. The most important thing is you have to smile.”

 
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Sarah Max took her place atop the podium following Thursday’s Queen’s Stage Race.
 

Baar is the subject of a new award-winning 14-minute documentary titled “Baar” that showcases his determination and joy of life. It was among three movies shown Thursday night at the Limelight Hotel as part of Rebecca’s Private Idaho, which has continually evolved to become as inclusive as possible.

Founder Rebecca Rusch noted Thursday night ahead of the movie showing that even her choice of creating a gravel ride event, rather than a mountain biking race, was designed to make the event accessible to more bikers.

“I realized more people could experience the magic of biking if it were on a wide road versus (sometimes steep, rocky single-track) mountain bike trails,” said Rusch, a seven-time national champion mountain bike racer.

Baar’s foray into gravel biking came at an Adventure for All camp, which works with individuals with autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy and developmental and intellectual exceptionalities, or disabilities. The motto of the camp is “Welcome to Your New Perspective,” and with good reason.

 
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Rebecca Rusch congratulates Sarah Max, a 48-year-old Bend, Ore., gravel bike racer.
 

 Individuals like Baar who have been told “they can’t” all their lives are taught to kayak, climb mountains and ride bicycles independently.

Individuals with exceptionalities often face low expectations from others about what they can achieve, which leads to helplessness and low self-esteem, said Sean Pfalzgraf, Baar’s coach from Adventure for All. . Attention is focused on managing their disabilities, leaving them with little meaningful participation.

“They’ve been told, ‘You can’t ride.’ They’ve been told, ‘You shouldn’t even try,’ ” Pfalzgraf said. “We tell them, ‘You can ride.’ ”

Adventure for All’s gravel biking program contends that self-growth begins with a single pedal stroke. Baar’s coaches started by teaching him to straddle a cushion. He practiced standing up and sitting down on a bicycle, and he learned to look where he was going.

He learned to pump up his tires and take care of other mechanical functions. And he learned to set goals and finish what he set out to do.

The Nebraska ride, one of the nation’s top gravel ride events, was challenging as it cruised up and down hills near Omaha.

“He worked hard, very hard,” said Pfalzgraf. “From start to finish he learned things like persistence, how to finish. He learned about showing up with an ‘I can do this’ mindset.”

On Sunday Baar will take part in the Tater Tots portion of category of Rebecca’s Private Idaho. Billed as a snack-sized portion of the full Baked Potato, it takes riders from Festival Meadows out Trail Creek Road where they turn onto the gravel Corral Creek Road that leads to the Pioneer Cabin trailhead.

It encompasses nearly 20 miles and 1,250 feet of elevation, compared with the 103-mile Baked Potato route that takes riders up Trail Creek Summit, challenging them with 6,208 feet of elevation. (The 56-mile French Fry Route encompasses 3,755 feet of elevation.)

Rusch noted that Rebecaa’s Private Idaho started with a female participation between 30 percent and 40 percent--“unheard of in this event.”

“Their story is different from ours but it’s a mirror into ourselves,” she said of those with exceptionalities participating in Rebecca’s Private Idaho. “They don’t call me the Queen of Pain for nothing, and I can tell you that hard things are a portal into a stronger, better you.”

Baar had a few parting words of his own for the cyclists who turned out to watch the movies the Limelight Hotel.

“Cycling gives me confidence. I can believe in myself,” he told the audience. “We are all champions.”

STAGE ONE RESULTS

The first stage of the Queen’s Stage Race in Rebecca’s Private Idaho followed a new route this year as it began at the Baker Creek parking lot north of Ketchum and followed 35 miles of grueling single track and chunky gravel that ended with a final stretch up the Harriman Trail.

The winners:

Women: Sarah Max

Men: Griffin Easter

Non-Binary: Sam Hansen

Women Para Cycling: Hannah Raymond

Men Para Cycling: Thiago Costa

Check out https://my.raceresult.com/259136/#0_2A913A for full race results.

“The lengthy and challenging singletrack segments of today’s new course pushed every rider to go farther than they thought they could,” said Rebecca Rusch, “I loved seeing everyone smiling because it was fun, but also gritting their teeth because it was really hard.”

Riders rode together for 20 miles out Warm Springs Road, finishing with a 4.5-mile time trial up a 3,000-foot gravel climb to Dollarhide Summit on Friday.

They will do a fun ride today before taking part in the main event beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Festival Meadows on Sun Valley Road. Live music and a bike expo will begin at Festival Meadows at 10 a.m. with the awards ceremony at 4 p.m.

 


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