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How Sam Bosco Went From A Cycling Champion To A Classroom Champion

By Karen Price | Jan. 17, 2021, 4:46 p.m. (ET)

Sam Bosco isn’t a parent, so she can’t say for sure what being a proud parent feels like.

But she does know what it means to be a proud aunt, and that’s how she feels when the kids she mentors through the Classroom Champions program connect with the concepts she’s teaching.

“It’s almost as rewarding as winning a bike race for me,” said the two-time Paralympic bronze medalist. “When I see a kid’s eyes light up and you know they got it, it’s a proud moment. I want them to have success and bring big smiles to their faces.”

Bosco, who medaled in both the road time trial and track pursuit in Rio, is one of dozens of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who volunteer their time with the nonprofit organization co-founded by Olympic champion bobsledder Steve Mesler and his sister, Dr. Leigh Parise. By matching athletes with classrooms all over the country in a virtual setting, students get to learn about goal setting, leadership, community involvement and other social and emotional skills they’ll need to be successful from people who have unique and inspirational real-life stories to share.

To date, the program has matched more than 200 Olympic, Paralympic, college and professional athletes with millions of students in more than 1,800 classrooms in the U.S., Canada, St. Lucia, Granada, Dominica, Costa Rica and U.S. military installations in Germany.

Bosco has been a volunteer with the organization for two years now. This year she has five classes from grades two through grade six. Every month Classroom Champions gives their athlete mentors a topic and talking points, and the athletes then put together a video that explores the topic in a way that’s personal to them. Then, the athletes issue a challenge based on that month’s theme and the students can respond with their own videos and photos. They also connect throughout the semester via video chat and, before COVID-19, occasionally in person.

One of Bosco’s first topics after becoming a mentor was on feedback — how to receive it and how to give it in a way that’s constructive versus critical.

“My example was having my cycling coach giving me feedback on my races and my training and handling the bike, then how I can take that and figure out how to become a better cyclist and bike racer,” she said.

Part of the lesson plan included how to give feedback in a nice way that doesn’t automatically make the other person feel sad or upset with themselves, Bosco said. It should be done in a way that gives the person a different perspective and comes from a good and helpful place.

Her challenge to them was to give her feedback on her video.

“I got that I should look into the camera more and practice a little more,” she said. “This was the first year I did it and I had index cards so I didn’t get lost in my train of thought, but when I first started I was kind of nervous. I’m more nervous talking to a camera than actually going to a class and talking to students, so my first videos were a little rough and they totally saw it. One of them was like, ‘Take a breath, it’s OK,’ and another one told me to share more stories or describe the experience of a bike race. Another one asked if they could see my dog more, because I had my dog in my lap.”

Caitlin Coleman teaches second grade at Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo, New York, and Bosco is her classroom’s mentor this year. A few of the kids were very excited to learn Bosco was a cyclist because they had just learned to ride their own bicycles without training wheels, she said.

“The kids are really inspired by her life story, which is something we did a little research on when learning about who she was,” Coleman said. “And they love the videos of her cycling.”

Every Wednesday is Classroom Champions day, and that’s when they watch the videos or work on the challenges and talk about the topic for that month. This year has been a bit different as they’ve gone from hybrid to in-person to all-virtual, Coleman said, but they’ve nonetheless been able to work on important topics including goal setting, perseverance and emotions.

“(Emotions) is a new one this year and that was a big deal because obviously a lot of them are dealing with trauma from being in quarantine,” Coleman said. “Some have had family members who’ve been sick, or whose parents have lost their jobs. Stress in the adults’ lives has an impact on the kids, so that emotions piece was a really important one and I’m so glad they added it.”

In the past, Bosco has even had the opportunity to visit her classrooms in person every now and again when they’ve been close enough geographically. Whether in-person or via computer, however, she loves making the connections with the kids.

“I want to be in their lives forever and see how far they go,” she said. “I love getting the opportunity to make an impact that way and be part of something that’s so focused on helping.”

Karen Price

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to USParaCycling.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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