With the 2012 Summer Olympics kicking off Friday with the opening ceremony, excitement is high in the Hudson Valley and around the world. And while we can't all head to London to watch the games (or, obviously, to compete), area residents can take part in a variety of Olympic sports right in their backyards.
From equestrian show jumping to synchronized swimming, we picked five Olympic sports that have training facilities or dedicated groups in the region. Below is information on where you can join in on the fun while watching the games.
EQUESTRIAN SHOW JUMPING
Two Olympians with Hudson Valley roots are competing for Team USA in show jumping: Armonk native Reed Kessler, 18, and Brewster's McLain Ward, 36. Whether you're a first-time horseback rider looking to learn the basics or an equestrian master looking to advance your craft, there are a number of places where you can participate in this highly specialized sport in the region.
Crosswinds Equestrian Center, a boarding and training center for horses and riders in Dutchess County, is a good place to start (17 Crosswinds Lane, LaGrangeville; 845-223-7433; crosswindsequestrian.com). Owner Joann Knapp said she's recently seen an increase in the popularity of show jumping as compared with regular horseback riding, which she attributes to the event's fast pace and the riders' flashier attire.
"Horseback riding in itself has always been kind of an elitist sport. It's very prescribed attire and very conservative," Knapp said. "Show jumping kind of goes outside the lines a little because it's for speed. You're either clean and fast or you're not."
In equestrian show jumping competitions, riders are in a race against the clock, timed on the course while jumping over obstacles including parallel rails, triple bars, water jumps and simulated stone walls. If an obstacle is not cleared correctly, the rider receives a penalty. The rider and horse with the fastest time and the fewest penalties wins.
Knapp suggests that beginner equestrians looking to learn the sport start off with private lessons at least once a week ($60 for 30 minutes). By the third lesson, Knapp says horseback riders will already be learning techniques that relate to show jumping.
Other facilities that offer show jumping lessons for riders of all ages include River Run Farm in Putnam County, which offers lessons for riders of all ages (220 Doansburg Rd., Brewster; 845-279-3442; riverrunfarmllc.com; $75 per lesson), and Minetto's Stonehedge Farm in Rockland County (220 Spook Rock Rd., Suffern; 845-357-8887; stonehedgefarmstables.com; $50 per lesson).
Mountain cyclist Todd Wells, a Kingston native, is competing in his third Olympics, and according to Kirk Davenport, a founder of the Putnam Riders Mountain Biking Association, there's no better place to go mountain biking than in the Hudson Valley.
"More or less, anywhere in Westchester and Putnam counties, you can head out the door on your bike and find a trail," said Davenport, who's mountain biked in Spain, France and Canada, among other locations.
While there's nowhere to "learn" mountain biking, there are a number of local groups that keep members up to date on events and get-togethers while advocating for the sport in the region. One of those groups, the Putnam Riders Mountain Biking Association, protect and preserve trails for responsible mountain biking at Mount Ninham, located outside of Carmel (putnamriders.com). Other local clubs include the Westchester Mountain Biking Association (wmba.org), the Tri-State Westchester Mountain Bikers (meetup.com/TSWMTB) and two Ulster County clubs -- the Renegades Mountain Bike Club (renegadesmtb.com) and the Gunks Mountain Biking Association (gumba.org).
Club membership for these groups are free, however the Gunks and the Renegades require a commitment to participate in club-sponsored trail work and volunteer opportunities throughout the year (the other clubs only recommend this commitment). Membership sign-ups for the Putnam Riders, the Tri-State Westchester Mountain Bikers, the Renegades and GUMBA are available on their respective websites.
First-time mountain cyclists and experienced riders alike can learn specific techniques key to successful mountain biking through the Trail Masters Touring company in Westchester County (914-325-5916; trailmasterstouring.com). Beginner clinics, which take place at various locations in the region and include a free bike safety check, are $45 per person for 2.5 to 3 hours of training and practice. If you don't have your own mountain bike, you can rent one for the class for an additional $25, but students must bring their own helmet. Trail Masters Touring also offers intermediate clinics ($45 per person, $70 with bike rental); private and semiprivate lessons for two people ($100 for 2 hours); bike rentals ($40 per day); bike riding lessons for kids ($60 per session); Old Croton Aqueduct Bike Tours ($45 per person, $70 with bike rental); women-specific clinics ($45 per person, $70 with rental); and skills coaching ($60 per session).
There are a number of great local stores where you can find all the mountain biking gear you'll need or get repairs and adjustments to your current bike. Danny's Cycles has multiple are locations (644 Central Ave., Scarsdale, 914-723-3408; 10 Bowman Ave., Rye Brook, 914-939-1150; dannyscycles.com) and is affiliated with Mohegan Cycles in Mohegan Lake (1922 E. Main St., Mohegan Lake; 914-526-2600; mohegancycles.com). Yorktown Cycles offers a large selection of bicycle brands and components (1899 Commerce St., Yorktown Heights; 914-245-5504; yorktowncycles.com) and Beacon Cycles has everything from road bikes to mountain bikes, repair and tuneup services, bicycle rentals and more (176 Main St., Beacon; 845-765-0366).
If you're ready to try mountain cycling but don't want to join a group, a list of trails for riders of all levels can be found online on the Historic Hudson River Towns site (hudsonriver.com/hudson-river-mountain-biking).
Added to the Summer Games in 1984, synchronized swimming is a relatively new Olympic sport, and with the second-highest number of Gold medals (behind Russia) and the second-highest number of total medals (behind Japan), Team USA has established itself as a force to be reckoned with.
Instruction in synchronized swimming was virtually nonexistent in the New York area until coach Rowena Dale Mohammed started Gotham Synchro in 2006. Mohammed, who's been coaching synchronized swimmers for 25 years, now offers lessons locally to both competitive and recreational swimmers ages 6 and up (917-533-4811; freewebs.com/gothamsynchro).
"At the top levels it's very athletic," Mohammed said of the sport. "But it's also sort of like dancing."
For newbie synchronized swimmers, Mohammed only requires the basics: Students must be able to swim 15 yards of the pool, know basic swimming strokes and be comfortable underwater and in deep water. But even amateurs may soon be performing water wheels and back tucks with the best of them -- Mohammed's trio of 11- to 12-year-olds, which included a swimmer from Ossining and an alternate from Armonk, competed in the national championships in June; and her professional team of adult women travels to and performs at local venues including Manhattan's Soho House and Hotel Gansevoort.
Classes are held throughout the week at the YWCA of White Plains (515 North Ave., White Plains; ywcawhiteplains.org) and on Sundays at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan (899 10th Ave., New York; jjay.cuny.edu) and the APEX Center at Lehman College in the Bronx (250 Bedford Park Blvd., Bronx; lehman.cuny.edu/ce). The cost of individual classes and multiple-week sessions vary based on the location, the age of the swimmer, and whether it is a competitive or recreational class.
As one of the few events that have been part of the Olympics continuously since its modern inception in 1896, fencing is undoubtedly one of the world's oldest sports. And while you no longer have to risk your life in combat as in the old days, fencing is still a technical, strategic, adrenaline-filled sport today.
Slava Gregoriev, the head coach and director at the Fencing Academy of Westchester, strives to train future world champions at his Hawthorne training facility, where he offers lessons to anyone 6 and up looking to compete at an international level or to duel recreationally (40 Saw Mill River Rd., Hawthorne; 914-345-5005; fencewestchester.com).
Through his 34-year fencing career, which included two trips to the Olympics and a world championship, Gregoriev said he found losing to be the hardest part of fencing, but also a crucial element of the experience.
"Without losing, victory is not sweet enough," he said.
Gregoriev suggests that beginners start out with private lessons ($40 for 20 minutes of instruction) before they take group lessons ($20 per hour). The Academy offers instruction in all of the Olympic weapons -- foil, epee and saber -- and provides all equipment for fencers.
There are a number of other places to take fencing lessons in the region. The Peekskill Fencing Center offers a free first lesson to newcomers and a $140 beginner's package, which includes six classes -- five group and one private -- to be taken within one month (1000 N. Division St., Suite G, Peekskill; 914-734-1444; peekskillfencing.com). The Hudson Valley Fencers Center (4676 Albany Post Rd., Hyde Park; 845-229-6882; hvfencers.com), which offers a 10-week program for about $160, has multiple locations for instruction in Dutchess County, including Crush Fitness (1097 Rte. 55, LaGrangeville), the Culinary Institute of America (433 Albany Post Rd., Hyde Park), Diamond Gymnastics (353 Sheafe Rd., Poughkeepsie), and Millbrook Training Center (2647 Rte. 44, Millbrook). Equipment is provided with the package and all ages are welcome.
Added to the Olympics in 1900, sailing is another of the oldest sports represented at the Summer Games. With waterfront access on both the Long Island Sound and the Hudson River, the Hudson Valley is a prime spot to learn how to sail and race on the water.
Traveling on a sailboat at speeds up to 50 miles per hour isn't for the faint of heart, but as Marc Hohenstein of New York Sailing School said, "It's crazy, but it's a lot of fun."
With a combination of classroom instruction and on-the-water practices, the New York Sailing School teaches terms, techniques and racing rules to sailors who already know the basics (22 Pelham Rd., New Rochelle; 914-235-6052; nyss.com). A session is $250 per person, $150 for Passport Sailing Club members. The school also offers a number of options for novice sailors ages 10 and up, with one-, two- or three-day sailing courses for beginners, $200 per $689 per child.
The Croton Sailing School offers professional sailing instruction on the Hudson River between April and November (2 Elliott Way, Croton-on-Hudson; 914-271-6868; crotonsailing.com). Their basic hands-on sailing program for adults, $395 per person, is a two-day program that makes students eligible for certification from the American Sailing Association. The school also offers summer sailing camps for kids at $725 per student for two weeks. The program includes morning and afternoon sailing sessions with a break for lunch.
Best known for its popular, catered charters and sunset cruises, Tivoli Sailing Company in Saugerties also offers a sailing package for beginners that includes 26 hours of instruction for $800 (845-901-2697; tivolisailing.com). Classes are available until the end of October. Tivoli recommends that students own their own boat so they can continue to practice after their lessons end.
Hudson Sailing in Kingston offers beginner group lessons for $50 to $150 per person and three-day courses for $400 (Municipal dock, Kingston; 845-687-2440; hudsonsailing.com). For those who want to experience sailing, but don't want to do the work, they also offers sailing charters.