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CycloCross at Ft. Harrison: Brutal biking for a cause

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The mission statement of St. Mary's Child Center says it all: "Every child deserves a childhood." And if Dr. Frank Troiano has any say in it, so do the endurance junkies of Central Indiana.

"The fact that the race is on grass allows adults to be kids," the local gastroenterologist and CycloCross enthusiast explained. "The race is safer; severe injuries are extremely rare if [they happen] at all."

Somewhat contradictory to Troiano's description, CycloCross, the rugby of cycling, takes participants across all types of terrain. Courses typically include barriers, logs and sand traps, forcing racers off their bikes and into the freezing mud. This weekend wraps up the Ohio Valley CycloCross series; competitors will battle for the championship title in Sunday's Brookside Cross Cup.

But it's the race on Saturday at Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park that will touch lives beyond the intense CycloCross community. The event will benefit programming at St. Mary's, a nonprofit child center for underserved preschoolers in Indianapolis. Center teachers offer comprehensive support to these at-risk children who are often too young for standard educational assistance.

"After a few short visits to the school, and seeing the devoted, loving staff and the incredible growth experienced by the children, I became committed to helping," said Troiano, the man responsible for this weekend's charitable cause.

St. Mary's uses the Reggio Emilia Approach to reach nearly 200 3- to 6-year-olds, fostering collaboration and critical thinking through art education. The philosophy encourages individual interests and uses the classroom environment itself as a teaching tool; for example, administrators believe that displaying and revisiting past projects makes learning tangible for each child.

Though nationally recognized for its effective methods, the center is in desperate need of funding. A year of programming costs roughly $7,500 per student. The school relies solely on support from The United Way, the Catholic Church and individual donors, patrons like R.N. Thompson, a business associate of Troiano's who first introduced him to the school.

Inspired by his eye-opening visits, Troiano reasoned that he could help the school while bringing what he deemed a much-needed sporting event to the Indianapolis community."Central Indiana needs some high-quality cross races," he said. "I'd like to educate this young, healthy, in general socially responsible demographic to the needs of 15,000 children in Indianapolis." According to Troiano, this is the first CycloCross benefit race, raising both funds and awareness through competitive sport.

It won't be all hardcore racing on Saturday, however. Festivities will also include a bonfire and hot chocolate, as well as a non-competitive "Social Cross" for those who prefer to hold onto the skin of their knees. "We're really trying to make this about healthy family fun," Troiano said.

Several corporate sponsors have signed on to help make the day a success. Starbucks will provide free cozy beverages, and bike shops Motion Cycling and T3 MultiSport will offer prizes and gear repair throughout the day. Mayors Greg Ballard and Charles Henderson, as well as Indy 500 driver Tomas Scheckter will be on hand to bring star power in garnering support for the cause. "Our primary goal for the first year of the race is to raise awareness," said Troiano, though donations are encouraged.

Racing begins on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.; the Social Cross jaunt kicks off at 3:30 that afternoon. Participants can register online by Wednesday, Dec. 1, at www.bikereg.com for $25, $30 for the masters' and elite races. Entrance to Ft. Harrison Park is $5 per carload.

To learn more about Saturday's race and its collaboration with St. Mary's, check out Troiano's event site: www.stmaryscyclocross.com.

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