Ama Nsek, 24, started riding and racing bikes when he was just 12-years-old. He and his brother, Imeh, came up through the NICA program in Southern California, and they immediately fell in love with mountain bikes. Soon, they wanted to do nothing else with their free time.
Ama eventually switched to road racing, where he’s found seemingly endless success. But recently, he’s been wanting more. And he has a hunch he’s going to find what he’s looking for by giving back.
“My brother and I ended up doing super well in the high school mountain bike league,” Ama told Bicycling. “And then ended up transitioning over to the road because we did some races on the road and won. Growing up on bikes, I was always just following my brother’s footsteps. He’s always been my main role model.”
Making Their Own Way
The Nsek brothers raced on a national team, and when they aged out of juniors, they were faced with the decision of going pro. “Our parents never really gave us that option. It was more, if you get injured, you can’t have cycling be your only life.” So both brothers opted for university as first-generation college students.
Ama admits that he and his brother have always liked and excelled at school. “My brother skipped sixth grade, and I graduated high school when I was 16, so we started college very young.” They raced collegiately a bit at Mount San Antonio College, but really just trained and stayed in shape. Ama created a training plan to plug into a schedule of 18 credit hours.
“If we’re going to stay fit, we might as well have a structured plan. I don’t want to lollygag—I’m very efficient.” So they worked out, they got fast, they had fun on bikes.
But Imeh’s heart wasn’t in it as much as Ama’s was. “Imeh decided to leave the sport in 2019 and I just kept doing it on and off, having fun. But at that point I also started coaching junior cyclists.”
Sharing the Stoke
By 2021 Ama was working with more than 40 young athletes. “It was a way for kids to find community. I think I enjoyed it because I thought, when I was younger, I wish someone had been able to guide me at a high level—someone who understands the pressure of needing to perform well in school but also wanting to perform well in cycling.” Ama says it’s important to have perspective, and sometimes that’s tough as a teenager.
“I just felt so stressed throughout my time in high school. I wanted to help other kids not have to go through that.” So he created a low-stress, holistic approach to coaching. “I wanted them to know, we’re going to help you plan things out, but also understand that life happens. It’s not a big deal. At the end of the day, it matters that you’re still riding bikes at 70. It doesn't matter if you’re really, really good right now. It’s a longevity piece here.”
Life Isn’t Linear
Ama and Imeh had each earned an associate degree from Mount SAC, but decided to go to Cal State Fullerton for the bachelor’s degree program. But during that time they endured the unexpected. “We had a pretty crazy family event. It hit us hard. I decided to take time out of school so that I could just be. It was a very tumultuous point in my life—at one point I couldn’t even speak for weeks.”
Ama wasn’t sure what to do with the darkness. He started asking himself the big questions, like, “What’s the point of all of this? Why am I here?” So he dug back into racing.
Ama found himself quickly at the top of the crit scene, coming in second only to Justin Williams more than a few times. He was so hot that he got an offer to ride with L39ION of Los Angeles for the 2021 season. “I was a little on the fence about it, but they were making a massive push towards diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and I wanted to help with that. So that was officially my entrance back into the sport seriously. And yeah, I had a pretty killer year.”
Ama had a six-week-streak of winning races, and was just really enjoying life. “I got second at road nats, fifth crit nats, second at short track cat one, mountain bike nats. I was just having great performances and was very consistent. And then I got an offer for a scholarship at Milligan University, to go back to school.”
Another tough decision. Another fork in the road. “I decided to go back to school. I had made a promise to my mom the moment I took time out from school, and I decided that I was going to see that promise through.”
Ama kept racing while he was in school—he joined Best Buddies, where he had the opportunity to race at the professional level. He was able to enjoy the experience of being in school and having that community, but also staying sharp and continuing to win against big names.
Change is in the Air
After graduating from Milligan, Ama moved to Boulder, Colorado to continue training and racing. But in the past year he’s been struck by how much the scene has changed. “Boise Twilight was my very first crit race back in 2019,” Ama said. “And I remember the electric feeling. I remember the positivity, and high levels of sportsmanship and care. I remember laughing in the middle of the race, and just generally giving each other space—not trying to force a crash.”
The more Ama thought about it, the more he realized that his own success wasn’t the most important thing anymore. “After graduating from college I had more time to think and reflect. I realized I don’t care if I win or lose—it honestly isn’t a big deal. I realized I get way more excited when my teammates win or when one of the athletes I coach wins— that’s the best feeling.”
Moving forward, Ama will continue to race, but he also wants to focus on giving back, and creating a next generation full of riders who are excited to have fun and grow. “I’m not so much worried about the sport dying, I’m more worried that the sport is going to be full of narcissists and people who get super egotistical over winning the local crit. At the end of the day, your resume doesn’t really matter. Ten years from now, even the biggest race, like pro nationals, no one is going to remember who won.” Ama has realized that what does matter is giving kids a feeling of worth.
“What matters is that little comment you made to that kid, and now he or she decides to go get on a bike, or now they understand how to race bikes a little bit better, and now they win this race and now they get this opportunity, and now they have a career in sport.”
Ama is partnering with his sponsors, MAAP clothing, Pinarello bikes, Hunt wheels, and The Feed, in order to launch programming, community, and races in both Boulder, CO and Los Angeles. The goal is to help get kids on bikes and into racing who might not otherwise find the sport, and to support those who are already crushing it but need equipment and resources.
“Creating community is massive. Being able to provide resources is massive. I just want to take that step to make a difference for the ones who are coming up.”
You Might Also Like