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Finding 'Pure Joy' on the Trails of Northwest Arkansas

August 4, 2020
Mountain bike coach Kim Seay gives back by teaching youth the fun and thrills of cycling

When Kim Seay moved to Northwest Arkansas in 1994, she discovered a region geographically ideal for her new passion – mountain biking.

The only problem? There were not many trails.

“I didn’t have anywhere to ride and no one to ride with, so I put the bike away,” says Kim.

Fast forward to 2020. Northwest Arkansas now has one of the most extensive – and extensively used – trail networks in the country. There are more than 480 miles of trail, ranging from highly-technical single track to family-friendly multi-use paths.

And Kim? She has long since pulled her bike out of storage.

Today, Kim not only bikes several times a week herself, she is an experienced coach with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, training middle school and high school mountain bike racing teams. She also supports and trains new mountain bike coaches across the country I talked with Kim about her passion for mountain biking and the impact of trails in Northwest Arkansas.

Kim Seay is a coach and coach trainer with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association in Bentonville, Arkansas.

You’ve lived in Northwest Arkansas for more than 25 years and have seen the full evolution of trails. What’s it been like to watch the growth of trails and mountain biking?

I remember when Slaughter Pen opened as the first real mountain bike trail in Bentonville. I hopped on the bike so fast. It was my old bike, a heavy hardtail Trek, rigid with no suspension. I got to ride with a group of guys for the first time. I was elated. I had the best time ever. The trail system has continued to grow and is an absolute gem for Northwest Arkansas. I pinch myself because I can wake up, ride down the street and hit the trails for 20, 30, 40 miles without getting off my bike. I don't know any other place where you can do that. What’s even better is to have the community really get behind the trail system, whether it be hiking or jogging or mountain biking or walking your dog. It's open to all and all are welcome.

Kim Seay says she finds "pure joy" in riding the trails of Northwest Arkansas.

What have trails done to develop the sense of community in Northwest Arkansas?

I have met countless people because of the trail network. My world used to consist of my children's world and their school. When the trails started being built, that opened up a vast community I had never known before. I’ve gotten to know people from around the world. It tickles me to death to be on the trail and stop to talk to somebody and they're from another country. It is the absolutely coolest thing.

What makes the trail system in Northwest Arkansas special?

Our trail system unites our communities. It is a way for people to get out, enjoy nature and meet others. It is also one of the most diverse trail systems around. We're in the foothills of the Ozarks. We have nature all around us. You can ride from downtown Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale, or Fayetteville on hard-surface trails like the Razorback Greenway, passing artistic sculptures and murals and connect to residential areas, schools, businesses and soft-surface trails. The soft-surface trails offer the naturally beautiful Ozark landscape of gently rolling hills, interesting rock formations, grasslands full of wildflowers, waterfalls, creeks, lakes, beautifully crafted bridges and artful rock work. We have flowy trails, beginner trails, trails for intermediate riders, hikers. We have rocky and smooth terrain. It’s not intimidating to come out and hike on the trail.

Kim Seay calls trail system in Northwest Arkansas an "absolute gem" for the region.

Why did you get into coaching?

NICA came to Arkansas four years ago. My son was in high school. He had a mountain bike and wanted to be involved, so I naturally thought I'd also like to be involved. Sports have always been a part of my life. Growing up, I was a competitive gymnast and in college I was on a national competitive cheer squad. Coaching was a perfect fit. To see students overcome obstacles and grow – that is why I coach. This is my community and I want to see it continue to grow up. So I give back with time and dedication to one kid at a time. If I can reflect the face of the community I’d like to see, that is my contribution. I also get a lot back. The kids have given me an added appreciation of life, of perseverance, of overcoming small and big challenges.

"The kids have given me an added appreciation of life," says NICA coach Kim Seay.

What's a NICA race like?

A NICA race is one of the most fun, cool experiences. Student-athletes, coaches, parents, friends and families come from all over the state. The weekends are festive and full of energy. No matter the team, everyone is cheering for each other. It's all about community. You have kids working super hard on and crossing that finish line with a huge smile on their face. Every kid leaves feeling like they have won.

What goes through your mind when you are mountain biking?

I think about my surroundings. It is so peaceful. There's something about the air and being in the woods that is very calming, relaxing. I have a hard time mountain biking and not smiling. There is a pure joy. It makes me happy.

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