Splattered with mud, Andrew Webster cheered on his 20-month-old daughter Claire as she gingerly pedaled her bicycle with training wheels through the boggy terrain of Taneytown's Memorial Park. Webster, who was scheduled to race later in the day, was one of the 400 racers who braved the rain Sunday afternoon to participate in the Mid-Atlantic Bike Racing Association's Cyclocross Championships.
"We like the mud. We all enjoy getting dirty," said Webster, of Bel Air. "It's a good way to get outside and get exercise."
Claire's grandmother, Carol Washburn, also of Bel Air, joined in the fun.
"This is a wonderful way to get kids involved in a sport that they can carry through their entire lives. It's also a great way for families to get together," Washburn said.
According to MABRA promoter Tracy Lea, the event is a fundraiser for the Special Olympics Maryland cycling program.
There were 24 races throughout the day. Lea explained that cyclocross races consist of many laps on short courses featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass and steep hills. Racers also traverse obstacles that might require riders to quickly dismount and carry their bikes while navigating the courses.
Linda Mack, owner of Silver Cycles bicycle shop in Silver Spring, spent the day managing equipment for a youth cycling team.
"The weather makes it more challenging and fun. Kids love to get into the dirt," Mack said.
Mack said whole families often participate in the sport together. Tina Cusack, of Chevy Chase, rooted for her husband, Pat, with their children, Nathan,10, and Lidia, 8. Nathan and Lidia had both competed earlier in the day.
"My husband has raced for 20 years. Our kids grew up doing the little races and cheering him on. It gets us outside and helps us see different parts of the state," Cusack said.
Mita Vogel, of Reisterstown, came out to support her daughter, Vivi Ruppenthal. Vivi, 10, is part of the Baltimore Youth Cycling team. The team was formed in January for children ages 8 to 18.
"This sport is exploding. The club offers a full rookie stable, which is key to getting kids into cyclocross because cross bikes are expensive," Vogel said.
Vogel explained the team encourages children to become lifelong cyclists.
"It's such a great sport. They're teaching kids sportsmanship and the rules of the road," Vogel said.
Vivi said she loves the sport.
"You get all muddy and get to ride your bike," Vivi said, adding, "When you're on a team, you sort of bond with each other. They're always there to cheer you on."
Joycelyn Spencer, of Somers Point, New Jersey, applauded her 25-year-old son Austin Butts as he raced to the finish line.
"The energy here is great. There's lots of camaraderie," Spencer said.
Ethan Dixon, of Silver Spring, and August Milliken, of Takoma Park, both competed in the Boys' age 11 to 13 race. Ethan, who races with a mountain bike, said he enjoyed the muddy competition.
"I race best when it's wet. It gets intense when you're trying to go up the hills. This is the dirtiest race I've ever done," Ethan said.
"It's a really cool experience. It's so worth it to go out and exert yourself," August said.
Adam Fulcher, 17, has been competing for six years.
"It's a great endorphin rush," said Fulcher, of Washington, D.C., adding, "Honestly, it could have been muddier."
Damien Clark, of Keedysville, finished last in the 35 and older race.
"I've been riding my whole life, but this is a completely different challenge than any other kind of riding," Clark said. "There's really no better way to spend a Sunday."