Youth mountain biking is growing across Missouri and the country and Columbia is no exception to the trend. Columbia’s COMO Composite Raptors were founded in 2020 and have offered a unique sporting opportunity to middle and high schoolers since. The team has been an opportunity for 6th graders to 12th graders in mid-Missouri to participate in mountain biking across the state. Through this team, parents, coaches and athletes have found community and camaraderie.
After photographing the team for a day-turn piece, I saw that there was more of a story to tell about what the team brought to the bikers and coaches. I followed the Raptors for about a month as they finished their season out with a race in Springfield, Mo.
From left, Blake Morris, Kenny Townsend and John Huffington race on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Cosmo Park in Columbia. Morris finished 4th in his last race, his best of the season.
John Huffington adjusts Kaid Shaw’s helmet before entering the trail during practice on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Cosmo Park in Columbia. Huffington and Shaw both won the team’s Turkey Vulture Award for Tenacity for Raptors who “embraced many challenges this season, shouldered them with smiles and kept soaring.”
LEFT: Blake Morris sets up water bottles for him and his teammates to jump over on Oct. 19, at Cosmo Park in Columbia. At the end of every practice the team compliments each other and chants, “Who are we? Raptors! What do we do? Ride bikes! What do we say? Kaw-ka!” RIGHT: Blake Morris jumps over water bottles on Oct. 19, at Cosmo Park in Columbia. Columbia Parks and Recreation has plans to build a bike park in Cosmo Park to include features such as a mountain bike skills course, an asphalt pump track and a cyclocross event space.
Lizette Somer holds a raptor while answering questions about it on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Cosmo Park in Columbia. The team adopted the vulture through MU’s Raptor Rehabilitation Project. COMO Raptors conducted their last practice of the season ahead of their competition this coming weekend in Highlandville, Mo. on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at Cosmo Park in Columbia. At the end of practice, the team got to see and ask questions about a vulture/raptor the team adopted.
From left, Ari Middelkoop, Nicholas Moore and Ian Daniels-Teixeiro look at Daniels-Teixeiro’s phone between races at their competition on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Highlandville, Mo. At certain race locations like Highlandville, competitors have the opportunity to camp on the competition grounds.
COMO Raptors coach Mike Stornello, left, and Jason Sutherland get Sydney Sutherland’s bike ready for her race on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, at Binder Park in Jefferson City. “I’m helping him get it adjusted so Sydney can rock it,” Stornello said. Mountain bike teams from across Missouri gathered to compete on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, at Binder Park in Jefferson City. Competitors ranged from 6th graders to 12th graders.
Lawrence Simonson puts on his son Liam Simonson’s glove before is race on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Springfield. Lawrence Simonson, who is also team coach, ensured Liam was cooled down with ice before his race on the warm autumn day. Racing mountain bikers on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Springfield.
Marlowe Weis, left, fist bumps Lawrence Simonson between races on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Springfield. Simonson, like many of the team’s coaches, is a coach as well as a parent to an athlete. Racing mountain bikers on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Springfield.
Marlowe Weis, right, takes a turn in the first couple minutes of her race on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, at Binder Park in Jefferson City. Weis finished 3rd in her race, 3rd overall in points for the season and was named female athlete of the year by the Missouri Lottery.
Carmen Daniels-Teixeiro looks at her mother shouting “Vale, vale, vale!” as she biked up the hill to the finish line on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, at Binder Park in Jefferson City. This is the COMO Raptors third season, and second season of competitions due to COVID-19 impacting the 2020 season.
National Interscholastic Cycling Association athletes race next to a bike park on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Highlandville, Mo. The final race of the season was the Tussle at Two Rivers. The location had a bike park that was open for athletes at the end of the competition day. Racing mountain bikers on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Springfield.
Brett Froeliger, right, cheers on Yojit Sharma as he nears the finish line on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Highlandville, Mo. Sharma won the team’s Most Improved Merlin award for being open to new ideas, working well with teammates and seeking to improve their techniques.
LEFT: From left, Marlowe Weis, Adam Gingrich and Blake Morris, check race results on Oct. 23 in Highlandville. The COMO Raptors team has 35 members after launching in 2020. RIGHT: Kaid Shaw points at race times on Oct. 23 in Highlandville. The members of the team range from 6th graders to 11th graders.
Blake Morris gives Kaid Shaw a piggy back ride on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Highlandville, Mo. The COMO Raptors compete in five races for the 2022 season across Missouri. Racing mountain bikers on Sunday Oct. 23, 2022 in Springfield.