The grit and goals of RAGBRAI’s Dream Team

DES MOINES — This year’s RAGBRAI — the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — will be the 26th outing for the Dream Team organization.

This year’s group of central Iowa teenagers, referred to the program by a school counselor, started doing indoor spin classes the first week of March. They moved to bicycling outdoors in April. This is the third year Scott Matter has been one of the Dream Team’s adult mentors.

“We had many rides in April when it was very cold and windy — those are very challenging,” Matter said, with a laugh. “…For our youth and our mentors, you really have to dedicated to doing this and to accomplishing your goal.”

The 35 teens on this year’s Dream Team will ride every mile of RAGBRAI alongside their 30 or so mentors. Matter has had a front row seat, so to speak, to watch the grit of these kids and their five month transformation.

“A lot of the youth that come to us maybe haven’t been dealt the best situation in life. For several of them, this might be the first time they’ve had a parental figure that’s actually helped them set a goal and accomplish a big thing in life,” Matter said. “Some of our youth go from not knowing how to ride a bike to being some of the safest cyclists on RAGBRAI. It is a pretty amazing thing.”

The age range for Dream Team members is between the ages of 12 and 18. Teenagers who complete the ride can return the next year for the training and for RAGBRAI,  until they reach adulthood. “The return rate from our youth is about 85%, which I think is one of the best endorsements of our program,” Matter said.

About 700 teenagers have been Dream Team members over the past quarter century and a few of the mentors have been around for most of that 25 year run. Bike World in Des Moines provides brand new bikes for the teenagers. “And then every member gets to keep their bike after they complete RAGBRAI at the end of July,” Matter said.

Meals and lodging for the teenagers on the Dream Team will be provided at no cost during RAGBRAI, as a group of five to 10 adults work as support staff for the bicyclists during RAGBRAI’s seven day run. Matter gets emotional talking about some of the accomplishments of kids who’ve completed the program.

“It’s an incredible organization that allows our kids, our youth to dream big, to be successful and develop kind of a roadmap for setting and accomplishing big goals in their life,” Matter said.

Matter highlighted the experience of one young man who Matter thought might drop out of the program three years ago, but has just graduated from high school and is going to Iowa State University this fall to major in chemistry.

RAGBRAI started Sunday in Sioux City and ends in Davenport on Saturday.