“Dominion Energy Riverrock” Festival Includes Youth Clinics Led By Black Athletes
Growing up in Richmond’s Creighton Court, mountain bike racer DeAngelo Washington said he didn’t know about local bike trails.
“I had no idea we had biking trails in our city,” Washington said. “I had no idea it was actually a sport.” Even with trail access, mountain biking is an expensive sport that was out of reach for Washington and his neighbors.
Washington went on to become a semi-professional baseball player. But after an injury sidelined that career in his late 20s, he found refuge on a $300 mountain bike he bought off Craigslist.
Gradually, that first mountain bike led to other, more advanced bikes as he worked his way up the amateur ranks in Virginia.
When he started competing, he noticed that he was the only Black athlete entering events. When he did research, he found only one professional Black mountain bike racer at the World Cup elite level.
And while he never felt discrimination from white racers, he said people in his community were surprised by his pursuit, and lacked the resources to participate.
“I never felt like I wasn't supposed to be mountain biking from anybody else,” he said. Instead, it was comments from other Black people implying “Black folks don't do this,” that made him want to bring the sport back to his community.
“I took responsibility to make it my purpose to like, just get other kids exposed to different things, like mountain biking,” Washington said.
Now the father of three girls, who just got his teaching and coaching license, regularly leads youth clinics to get kids outside and on bikes.
“When I take them to the mountains, maybe they see something else that they might want to end up doing,” Washington said.
Multi-award winning athlete Kai Lightner has a similar message, but about climbing.
He says he came to the sport naturally.
“I was always a really active kid. I liked climbing things that caught my attention,” Lightner said. “Like before I could walk, I used to climb over the baby gates.”
When he started in the sport at the age of six, there weren’t role models who looked like him.
“When I started out, my community just didn't really understand rock climbing, because no one really did it. And it wasn't really something that we did,” Lightner said. “[There] wasn't access to rock climbing in the inner cities, or people didn't really have connections to the outdoors.”
Lightner, now 21, said his peers would urge him to try “something normal” or something “you can actually make money in.”
“I would be pretty consistently teased for it in school,” he said. “Kids just thought it was weird, because I liked rock climbing.”
To help introduce the sport to younger climbers, Lightner created “ Climbing for Change.” The non-profit “aims to connect underserved communities with individuals and organizations that seek to increase minority participation in rock climbing and the outdoor adventure industry.”
“I wanted to create an organization where I could kind of alleviate some of those barriers of entry, and allow a new generation of kids who look more like me to feel comfortable to enter the sport and have the financial means and access to do so,” Lightner said.
Both Lightner and Washington say some of the biggest barriers to introducing their sports to kids of color and to children in underserved communities is the cost. The cost of equipment and access to places, something both are working to change.
Like Washington, Lightner will be leading youth clinics at Riverrock to introduce their respective sports to kids. And both are working with the Richmond non-profit Blue Sky Fund, which connects urban children to nature.
For a schedule of events visit Dominion Energy Riverrock