Becoming a Mountain Bike Leader - an interview with Sharon Harod

Sharon loves combining her work with her passion for mountain biking
We ask Sharon Harod, who recently completed her second Cycling UK Leader course, what got her into mountain biking, why she wanted to do it, and what she felt about the Cycling UK courses she has undertaken.

Where were you when you started on the Trail Leader course?

I started working in the outdoors aged 17 in Sept 1996 on an Outdoor Education Course based at Reading College and on work placement at Adventure Dolphin in Pangbourne, Berkshire. When I finished the course in June 1997 I was offered a full-time position. I have worked in the outdoors delivering a variety of activities ever since.

I'm fortunate enough to have worked in various centres over the years from Berkshire to the South of France - all have had some involvement with mountain bike programmes and being in the great outdoors. During this time, I've also managed to gain various national governing body qualifications in canoeing, kayaking and climbing, amongst other activities.

In 2007 I left my job at the time to help set up Outdoor Academy with Dave Hopper and have never looked back!

Having recently purchased a new fleet of mountain bikes at Outdoor Academy in 2008, we decided we needed to update our qualifications so in February 2009 I attended the Cycling UK Trail Leader Course in Berkshire. I have used the qualification on an almost weekly basis since.

More recently, in March 2014, I completed a Technical Mountain Bike Leader Course in North Yorkshire.

What initiated your interest in mountain biking. You obviously ride regularly now, but did this start as a result of your Cycling UK course?

Working in outdoor centres has given me opportunities to work with a variety of groups of all ages and abilities. I started mountain biking as a trainee helping qualified riders as a second pair of hands on group sessions. Once I held the mountain bike qualification myself, I was able to lead groups in the local area and that opened the doors to new opportunities.

I got a part-time job with Mountain Trek, leading groups around the woods of Swinley Forest.

I have found myself leading groups in a variety of settings from Scotland on the West Highland Way to leading sections of the Devon Coast to Coast expedition. I have also led Bronze and Silver DofE mountain bike training programmes and assessments in the South Downs and the New Forest.

What other things do you do now, and how does mountain biking fit into that?

I am currently working for Outdoor Academy, primarily with young people excluded from mainstream education during term-time, and then expeditions and camps during the holiday periods. The programme is pretty varied and includes the delivery of outdoor education, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and Sports Leaders Award. Mountain biking plays a huge part in all of the groups I work with because it's something they want to do and they are enthusiastic about it.

A few months back, Outdoor Academy purchased a mountain bike pump track and a series of bikes suitable for the younger generation. These have proved to be a big hit and has got young people who have never ridden a bike before enjoying the experience it offers.

So would you say that your mountain biking has changed over the time you have been riding?

Definitely, my personal mountain biking has changed over the years from very familiar local routes to being able to challenge myself more on tougher, harder terrain.

Do you ride socially or is your mountain biking all work-related really?

I have always gone out riding with friends in the evenings or at weekends. It started with local routes around Berkshire and led on to riding at trail centres further afield like the Forest of Dean, the Lake District, North and South Wales, the Marin Trail and Afan. Not forgetting Bristol’s Ashton Court and even occasionally summer downhill riding in Les Gets and Morzine in France now!

What impact has the Cycling UK courses you’ve done had on you?

The Cycling UK Mountain Bike Trail Leader course has allowed me to lead groups over the past few years and experience so much more in the outdoors. It has opened the doors to new ventures and great opportunities. It has developed me as a coach and, by attending the Technical Mountain Bike Leader Course, too, I hope to utilise the skills I have learnt to encourage others into the sport and to get more young people to ride at the national trail centres in the UK and abroad.

Where do you think you would like to go now with mountain biking?

I would like to get more experience in technical environments and attend courses focusing on my own personal development within mountain biking. I'm looking at the SI Urban course for when we use our pump track, as well as bike maintenance training. Being able to show progression with the young people I am working with is important for my own development as well as theirs.

How do you manage to balance a no doubt busy social and family calendar with work and riding time?

Even after a hard day’s graft working and delivering so many other activities, it’s always nice to blow away the cobwebs with a blast on the bikes. Only whenever I get chance, of course…

Sharon now works at Outdoor Academy delivering and co-ordinating a whole of host of activities for young people, both on site and at venues around the UK.