Aidan Charles, a chiseled, lean picture of fitness, is a man who believes in giving back. Aidan who began "riding with friends in middle school," in 1999 and who remembers his mentors, Trent Sullivan and Arlen Wenzel, has built a CT cycling empire out of a once fragmented system. Much like Trent and Arlen did, he mentors young riders, helping them achieve greatness.
One such rider is Benjamin Wolfe, who came to Aidan when he was 16 years old. With Aidan's mentoring Ben rose through the professional ranks in the United States and looks to be one of the greatest riders of his generation. "Without Aidan, I don't know if I'd be where I am today," Ben says, "I attribute much of my success to Aidan."
Aidan hasn't stopped with Ben though. He struggles to think of just one rider who might be the next big thing because there are so many he has developed. One might think his secret to success is special power meters, VO2 max tests, body composition tests, or fancy wind tunnels but Aidan believes it is something much simpler.
"I share my enthusiasm and passion with my juniors, making sure it's fun," Aidan says.
"Honestly, it's the car rides to and from the events that are just as fun as, if not more fun, than the events themselves," he continues. Aidan started this process of giving back when he was still in college.
"The first rider I coached was a guy named Nick," Aidan remembers.
After having success with Nick, Aidan began coaching more juniors (high school age cyclists). Then Marka Wise, a prominent figure in New England cycling at the time, heard that Aidan was doing well with juniors in the area. Marka began to send juniors to Aidan, who trained them free of charge at that time. Shortly after that, "A couple of masters riders (age 30 and higher) asked for some training programs and it just went from there."
Starting with Charles Coaching and Nutrition Services, abbreviated CCNS, Aidan quickly expanded his network into what is now 30 plus junior teams spread throughout Connecticut. CCNS first started as a junior team, then became a club. From CCNS evolved the Aetna cycling team, which was an elite under 23-year-old cycling team. After Aetna, Aidan wanted to go back to developing junior teams with CCAP (The Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program), a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization, separate of CCNS.
"I had seen a bunch of junior teams come and go, which was frustrating," Aidan recalls.
"Teams like Mystic Velo, Ben's first team, had been around a few years before falling away from the sport."
"Both junior and elite teams come and go and we realized that model of sponsorship is totally broken," Aidan says.
"There is like one guy, or two guys, in the middle, that are really passionate and do a ton of work to get sponsorship and rally people and do the jersey stuff, like really rally people around certain thought processes, and recruit people," Aidan explains.
"We looked at other successful sports models and it's really not like that. It's not one person trying to do it all," Aidan continues, "there is one person that just shows up and coaches."
Aidan takes the approach from successful sports models, setting up a support structure for his riders. This is no small undertaking but, "Once kids and their families in Connecticut realize and see a sports model that is similar to something they are familiar with like soccer or football, with teams and practices, all of sudden the demand for youth cycling programs is huge."
All this work has certainly paid off. Aidan took what once was a small club and transformed CCAP into USA cycling's club of the year for 2016. In doing that he has also built Connecticut into a cycling mecca, hosting events like the CCAP Breakaway Benefit, the New Haven Grand Prix, and the East Hartford Kermis. The Kermis is "a local race with a fair like atmosphere," modeled off cycling events in Belgium.
"I like to make races fun events where riders and spectators can party and enjoy themselves," Aidan says.
In addition to these in-state, fun events, Aidan hosts some out of state camps as well. In March, Aidan travels with Connecticut riders to camps in South Carolina, riding up to 400 miles in a week, climbing more vertical feet than Everest in the process. He also heads up the six gap ride in Vermont in June. This six gap ride is a 140-mile ride on many riders "bucket list," which covers Appalachian Gap, Brandon Gap, Lincoln Gap, Middlebury Gap, Rochester Gap, and Roxbury Gap in Vermont.
When Aidan isn't developing and maintaining Connecticut's cycling community, planning a great, new cycling event, or holding a physically demanding camp he spends time with his loving wife of seven years, Caitlin. Oh yeah, did I mention he also has a newborn son?
One might wonder how someone can juggle so many commitments. Aidan manages to do so by focusing only on the here and now. When asked, "Where do you see yourself in five years?," he simply responds, "Oh I don't think like that anymore. It's just day to day." Then with humble ambition, he adds, "I do want to double the amount of junior riders I have in two years."
To learn more about Aidan Charles kindly visit www.charlescoaching.com.