Eight-year-old Antonia Larson has an impressive list of Route Badges, and her parents are not too bad at playing bikes themselves.
Some eight-year-old girls collect dolls. Others collect stuffed animals, Pokemon cards, or even toy trucks. Amazing eight-year-old Antonia “Sqidget” Larson collects Route Badges. You heard me correct, Zwift route badges.
“Antonia has always liked riding her bike,” notes her mother, Rebecca. “She would see us on Zwift and one day asked when she could have an avatar like us.” Antonia has her own ZwiftPower profile, and you can check it out by clicking here.
Antonia Was Hooked and It Didn’t Take Long
When the pandemic forced Antonia to spend more time in the house, her father, Dan, set up her small mountain bike on a fluid trainer. Rebecca and Dan agree that riding on Zwift was Antonia’s idea, but once they set her up, “there was no looking back.”
The Larson family lives in Norman, Oklahoma, where Dan and Rebecca are on the faculty of the Health and Exercise Science department of the University of Oklahoma. Antonia is their only child. If you are a fan of cycling, particularly virtual cycling, you may recognize the Larson name.
The Larsons Have a Storied History in Cycling
Much like their daughter, Antonia, Rebecca and Dan like to collect things also. Rebecca, who began cycling at the age of 13, collects US National Championships. She has twelve of them. In addition to multiple collegiate, state, and masters titles, she has competed in Fleche Wallone and the Tour of Flanders.
Dan is a keen cyclist himself. He has collected his share of collegiate national championships on the track. Dan also acted as the cycling team coach at the University of Florida and was involved in the management of several professional road racing teams.
The Larson family along with Rebecca’s mom and dad after Rebecca won the 2019 Masters criterium championships.
The Larsons Discovered the Merits of Virtual Cycling Early On
“I didn’t jump onto the virtual cycling platform as early as Dan did,” notes Rebecca, “but I got hooked and have been almost exclusively riding and racing online.” You can find Rebecca’s ZwiftPower profile here.
Dan first started Zwifting in 2015. He recalls fondly, “While I proudly nabbed a Zwift beta jersey on Jarvis, I know I’m not one of the originals.” I would say he is close enough – Zwift #10,668! Find Dan’s ZwiftPower profile here.
Back then, the Larsons started out using one laptop and a dumb trainer. The Larson family virtual cycling setup has evolved since then. “We have taken over the garage so we can ride as a family,” remarks Rebecca. That means three of everything and an extensive collection of outlets. 15, to be exact.
Virtual Cycling as a Family is Not Without Its Challenges
“The big challenge was climate control and electrical overload,” states Dan. “We installed a mini-split AC/Heater and an additional circuit breaker,” Dan recalls, “and now things are much cleaner and safer.”
For Dan and Rebecca creating a space in their home where they could enjoy virtual cycling as a family was a challenge, they had to overcome. “One of the things we love about Zwift is how convenient it is,” notes Rebecca, “so we maximize that convenience by each having our own setup.”
The Larsons Encourage, but Don’t Push the Highly Motivated Antonia
The Larsons encourage their Daughter, Antonia, to pursue all her passions and endeavors. “If she wanted to pursue virtual cycling, we would help her as much as we can,” remarks Rebecca. “Cycling is a hard sport mentally and physically,” acknowledges Dan, “so if Antonia has the drive and fire to compete, we will support her.”
It appears she does, in addition to pride in her virtual cycling achievements. Antonia says she would like to try and get all the route badges, but she really wants the Tron bike. She anticipates it will take her a few years, but that isn’t slowing her down. Antonia considers her trip up the Alpe du Zwift as her most outstanding Zwift achievement so far.
“Antonia likes to tell people, mostly adults, about the rides she does on Zwift and her friends how cool it is,” Rebecca notes proudly. That includes the Larson family friend Phil Gaimon, who incidentally also gave Antonia her nickname – Squidget.
Antonia is Proud of Her Accomplishments, and her Nickname
You see, the Larsons also like to collect nicknames. Short in stature and slight of build, Rebecca was called Midge during her college days riding with the University of Florida. Antonia’s nickname story goes like this, according to Rebecca.
“While I was pregnant, we showed an ultrasound picture to Phil, and Dan joked that it reminded him of a squid,” remembers Rebecca. “Phil combined the two, Squid and Midge, and it stuck.” Oh yeah, Dan has a nickname too, Rebecca adds matter of factly, “Ogre for Dan because he is Shrek shaped.”
The Larson family’s fondness for nicknames is indicative of the bond they share. “Right now, our family cycling goals are about staying healthy and having fun,” according to Rebecca. Cycling as a family has been a very positive and fun experience for the Larsons. “If Antonia no longer enjoyed riding,” offers Rebecca, “we would be supportive of that decision and help her find another healthy exercise outlet.
The Larsons Acknowledge That Virtual Cycling Can Enhance the Lives of Many
As parents and professionals who have devoted their personal and professional lives to promoting health, fitness, and athletics, Dan and Rebecca acknowledge the tremendous potential in virtual cycling. “We think virtual cycling can improve the health and well-being of a lot of people.”
The Larsons also acknowledge the tremendous negative consequences of restricting access to Junior cyclists. “We know there are a lot of constraints in hosting Junior and kids events, especially in regards to internet regulations,” they remark, “but having more publicly facing resources addressing kid and Junior groups would be helpful.”
Conclusion - The Issue of Restricting Access to Juniors
The issue of restricting access of Junior cyclists to competition has recently come to the forefront. The Zwift Racing League 2021/22 Ruleset prohibits racers under the age of 16 from participating in Zwift Racing League events. The potential negative ramifications upon health, wellness, and the future of esports are profound. You can find more information supporting the assertion in this article previously posted on The ZOM.
If you are cycling parents like Dan and Rebecca and had the choice between one of those shooting games and a video game that promotes a healthy lifestyle for your child, “Which would you choose?” Now imagine that your child gets hooked. To the point that they developed a love for racing, and especially the chance to say they competed in THE Zwift Racing League.
Would your child be disappointed? Perhaps, but there are feasible solutions to the problem, and you can find them in this article previously posted on The ZOM.
I know one eight-year-old cyclist who would take it pretty hard, Antonia. “I would be very sad because I would not be able to ride all the routes and spend time with my family.” How could anyone say “No” to that?
Do you have a child who enjoys virtual cycling? Do you ride as a family or would you encourage your child? Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists would like to know your experience.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!