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TEEN CYCLISTS LEARN TO STAY ON COURSE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

While most people tried to find ways to beat the heat yesterday, a group of cyclists found enjoyment in 30 brutal miles of pedal-pushing in Baltimore County.

It was a practice run for a much longer trip.

The cyclists are participants in the CAM Teen Challenge, a program that links teens at risk of dropping out of school with mentors to train for the Cycle Across Maryland Tour, a six-day, 320-mile ride from Oakland to Baltimore planned for July 23 to July 29.

The 4-year-old program has groups in Montgomery County and in Baltimore. The city's CAM Teen coordinator, Don Fair, said his group trains every Saturday from April to July to prepare for the grueling tour, which will average 55 miles a day and camping at night.

Mr. Fair said the program began this year with 15 mentors and 20 student applicants and then narrowed down to the most resilient cyclists. "We lose some kids because they think they can't do it," Mr. Fair said. "This year we ended up with about nine students who hung in."

The students are usually recruited from the Maryland Tomorrows/Futures program, which helps at-risk teens stay in school. Student cyclists train on used bikes donated by the community and the city police department, Mr. Fair said, and then receive new bikes from the CAM Corp. to ride on the tour. Teens who complete the tour keep their bikes.

Mike Foard, 14, can't wait. The Kenwood High School sophomore said he has not missed a week of the training, which usually involves tackling hills and long distances on county roads.

"I like biking and I love to explore," he said, lovingly caressing the new purple 18-speed Cruz Specialized Crossroads bike he will have for the tour. "It's something to do and it keeps me in shape."

Mentor Carl Stratmann, 41, who does maintenance work for the Department of Juvenile Justice, said he signed on to be a role model for the students.

"I see a lot of kids who are in trouble and I feel that if I can deter even one of them, then it's significant," Mr. Stratmann said.

Mentors teach good cycling habits such as how to cycle and what to eat for energy, while reminding the cyclists to drink lots of water, said Mr. Stratmann, who has cycled for five years.

"Like George, he should be drinking now," Mr. Stratmann said, tossing the remnants from his water bottle on George Hill, 17, as the pair cooled down from yesterday's ride in and near Carroll Manor Park.

George, a junior at Patterson Park High School, said that before joining CAM Teen Challenge, he had not seen much of the state outside of his city neighborhood. The teen-ager said he joined the program "just to see what it would be like" and ended up with a new group of friends.

Lauren Miller, a 15-year-old sophomore at Kenwood High, is probably the last person anyone would expect to be bicycling. An asthmatic with a bad knee, Lauren has been nicknamed "Slider" and "Roadkill" for being one of the first to fall while riding.

"I want to prove to myself that I can do it," Lauren said, tugging at her sweat-soaked bandanna. "It helps your concentration and your attention span because you have to do two things at once, ride and pay attention to what is going on around you."

Tricia Lynch, 30, a track coach and Maryland Tomorrows counselor at Kenwood, is also bicycling with a medical condition -- she's 5 weeks pregnant. That's not going to stop her and her husband Billy from bicycling and supporting the students, she said.

"One thing that I noticed about these kids is that they were so quick to give up, but when you are on a hill you can't stop and walk it, you have to keep going," she said. "Hopefully they will be able to carry that lesson over into their lives."

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