Steamboat teenager conquers his first Town Challenge

Xavier Knott celebrates with his one-on-one support partner, Chuck O’Connell, after completing the Emerald Envy Town Challenge race on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Xavier Knott, 16, took to the start line with excitement in the Novice/Youth Male 16-18 division of the Emerald Envy Town Challenge race on Wednesday, June 22. This was his first time competing in a Town Challenge event, and his family was eager to watch him race.

Knott, who is on the autism spectrum, races for the Steamboat Springs High School mountain biking team but is not used to large-scale community races.

“He has done some racing, but it’s great for him to be a part of these community events,” said Knott’s mother, Ginger Johnston. “Being integrated into things that other kids in this town do, they see him out here and he’s just another kid to them.”

Knott first learned to ride a bike at eight years old, while he and his family were still living in Chicago. In 2016, he moved to Steamboat Springs and wanted to get into mountain biking. 

Johnston was nervous at first but the Yampa Valley Autism Program provided him with a one-on-one support partner so he could participate in programs with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. 

“It was a great collaboration between the Yampa Valley Autism Program and the Winter Sports Club, and he was able to be a part of the mountain biking team from the very beginning” Johnston said. 

While the Town Challenge is a competitive mountain biking series with a point system, it was also created to bring the community together to share in a common love for mountain biking. Knott took advantage of the opportunity and had a great first time competing. 

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Knott’s one-on-one support partner for this event was Chuck O’Connell who biked behind him for the full 5.6-mile race while offering advice and encouragement throughout.

O’Connell is on the board of directors at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club who, in association with the Yampa Valley Autism Program, helped Knott compete in Wednesday’s Town Challenge.

Xavier Knott makes his final descent before the finish line with Chuck O’Connell at the Emerald Envy Town Challenge on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“This maybe feels a little more intimidating to him than a high school race and my role would be to help him with the social parts of the race, which would be when he might be getting passed or if he wants to pass someone” O’Connell said. 

Knott put together an impressive race, finishing with a time of 42 minutes and 38 seconds and was the only competitor in the Novice/Youth Male 16-18 division.  

Knott said the best part of the day was, “mountain biking fast.”

When he finished the race, the fun was not over. Knott was able to relax with some pizza and music provided by the event. 

His joyful energy was infectious and he was proud of all he had accomplished. 

“We’re just excited that he has such great support from the winter sports club,” Johnston said. “The coaches have just been incredible. So inclusive.”

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