According to Tom Hanley, founder of Indianapolis nonprofit Nine13sports and former national champion cyclist, the bicycle can be the ultimate equalizer when it comes to getting kids outside and moving.
“The bike is a tool that can help us work with students of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities,” Hanley says. “A bike can create a relatively level playing field.”
But first, Hanley had to make opportunities for disadvantaged youth to engage with the tool that is the bicycle through the nonprofit he created, while also giving opportunities to differently-abled children who might not be able to ride on their own. “At every school we go to, we identify any students with any special needs and make experiences adapted to them,” Hanley says. “We also have hand-pedaled bicycles, and the Indiana School for the Blind and Impaired has been one of our greatest partners throughout the nonprofit’s journey.”
Hanley started Nine13sports in 2012 after being an elite level cyclist brought him to Indianapolis. “My career in cycling had ended abruptly in June of 2010 when I was in an automobile accident in which I suffered two broken vertebrae and a brain injury,” he says. “Instead of pursuing law school like I had originally planned, I started the framework that would become Nine13sports.”
At first, Hanley had one program, Kids Riding Bikes. The program involved stationary bike simulators. “We would go into Indy schools and interact with kids during the school day. We created a positive and engaging opportunity,” he says. “It was like having the kids be in a big video game.”
During the sessions, students ranging in ages from kindergarten through 8th grade would experience different courses that would alter the types of riding from, say, uphill climbs to downhill tracks. All of this would take place in the students’ PE classes. “We knew that we had something good,” Hanley says. “Kids loved it — and we had opportunities to grow and go into more schools. This is pretty much what we did from 2012 to 2018.”
By 2019, Nine13sports had worked with 125 different schools across central Indiana and 50,000 youth. “As we have grown, we have found new ways to bring the same messaging of bringing the love of cycling to different age groups,” Hanley says. The nonprofit had gone from working with kindergarten through 8th grade to then also working with high school students. That same year, the organization had launched the Kids Building Bikes program. “We teach each kid how to build a bike and take care of a bike. There are 16 curriculum hours, and after the child graduates, they get their bike, a helmet and a lock.”
The most recent program to be launched by Nine13sports is Explore Indy Program, which partners with Indy parks. “With this program, we explore the greenways and trails of the city and learn about the city’s history,” Hanley says. The program is currently in open enrollment, and parents can enroll their children through the organization’s website at nine13sports.org.
“We want to empower kids through the ultimate equalizer: the bicycle,” Hanley says. Over the coming months and years, Nine13sports plans to continue expanding its programming.