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Boulder’s Harris Cardosi serving as an inspiration to his mountain bike team

Harris Cardosi, left, poses with his mountain bike coach Ben Boyer at his first race in Frisco in 2018. (By the Colorado High School Cycling League/Photo provided by Natalie St. Denis)
Harris Cardosi, left, poses with his mountain bike coach Ben Boyer at his first race in Frisco in 2018. (By the Colorado High School Cycling League/Photo provided by Natalie St. Denis)
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Harris Cardosi wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps when he first started riding with Boulder High School’s mountain bike team three years ago, but his path would be a little different.

Cardosi, now a senior at 17, lives with autism and needed a course coach to help guide him along the competition trail at each event. His coach at the time and the team’s founder, Ben Boyer, helped him learn the ropes.

“In the beginning, we put a green piece of tape and a red piece of tape on his shifters, and I would ride behind Harris,” Boyer said. “I would say give me a red click, give me a green click. And I was basically walking him through all of his shifts that he made.”

Boyer asked all of his riders to set a personal goal for each season and, in his first year with the team, Harris decided he wanted to make the cut for every freshman race, meaning he would have to finish his first lap in an hour to be able to ride the second.

In his first race, in Frisco, Harris barreled through the uphill portions but took the downhills slowly and tentatively. He and Boyer approached the finish line just as the one-hour cutoff ropes were coming out, but they barely beat out the mark by four seconds to initiate his second lap.

By season’s end, Harris was beating the cut by 15 minutes each race and he faced the downhills much more fearlessly.

“I like going on the course much better. When I go on the trail, I want to go faster,” he said. “I just get much better when I just go for a ride. I get a lot better.”

Fast forward to 2022. When Harris took the trail for the first time during his senior season, just a few weeks ago, he didn’t need a coach to instruct him through his shifts. He didn’t need anybody at all for the first time in his high school athletic career.

Harris Cardosi smiles as he rides through a tunnel of teammates at the finish line of the Frisco mountain bike trail in 2019. (By the Colorado High School Cycling League/Photo provided by Natalie St. Denis)
Harris Cardosi smiles as he rides through a tunnel of teammates at the finish line of the Frisco mountain bike trail in 2019. (By the Colorado High School Cycling League/Photo provided by Natalie St. Denis)

“In terms of his improvement, it’s like off the charts,” Boyer said. “Harris likes routine and he likes things that he can sort of count on and that is completely the opposite of what happens during a race on a mountain bike. You are confronted with having to make decisions at the moment, depending on who’s next to you, who you’re trying to chase down, all the conditions of the course and the obstacles that you’re coming across. Personally, I think that I’ve really seen Harris grow not only as an athlete on the bike, but he’s gained a lot of confidence just as a person.”

Harris’ time with the team hasn’t just been beneficial to his growth on the trails.

When Harris first joined, he was quiet and reserved. Being around his closest friends on the mountain — 140 of them at Boulder alone — broke him out of his shell. Now, he’ll go up to teammates to initiate conversations and makes sure he’s always hanging out with them at events.

His current coach, Christian Long, sees him as he would any other athlete, as he works with his kids on descents and fine-tuning their techniques during races. Harris has become someone they can rely on to provide a positive outlook on everything.

“He’s an inspiration to the other kids. Sometimes, the weather’s not great, we’re just having a long day, we don’t feel like going to ride and think, ‘Oh, Harris is going to go,’” Long said. “He’s very reliable that way. … It encourages me and I think the other kids as well. They want to be there. They want to be part of it because they see, ‘someone else is doing it so I’m going to go as well.’”

As the season begins to wind down and Harris’ high school mountain bike experience comes to an end, he and his family couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities it’s provided him over the years.

This fall, he hopes to finish every race and make the podium whenever possible.

“It’s been very emotional, especially the first race of the season, where he went around by himself,” his mother Carol said. “I think Harris was more ready than I was. It’s just been absolutely amazing to see him grow and become more confident. He can do a lot more than I think I give him credit for.”