Ben Boyer, biology teacher and coach of Boulder High School's mountain bike team, said he felt betrayed when he returned to the school after last month's flood to find the team's trailer had been broken into and five bikes inside had been stolen.
Along with a few helmets and other items that were taken, Boyer estimated $9,000 worth of gear was lost in the theft.
"We'd worked to get those bikes and have them available for kids in need," he said. "To think someone would take those from us, it was hard to fathom on top of events of the flood weekend."
Boyer and Principal Kevin Braney dipped into their own pockets to replace two of the bikes and are working to replace the others.
On Thursday afternoon, as Boyer rounded up the 64 members of the mountain bike team for one of their weekly rides, the students surprised their dedicated coach and teacher with a token of their appreciation for his hard work: a new Niner E.M.D. 29-inch hardtail bike.
Team members secretly collected donations from family members and friends to buy the nearly $2,000 bike, which they picked out with help from the team's bike sponsor, University Bicycles on Pearl Street.
Boyer was in disbelief when team members Emma Vigers and Lindley Bellian presented him with the gift in the school's parking in front of a crowd of supporters.
"I'd be lying to say this hasn't been a hard couple of weeks, and this is pretty amazing," Boyer said. "All I can say is, 'Eat my dust, baby.'"
Bellian, a senior, is the team's captain this year. She said she knew people would be enthusiastic about the idea but was shocked by how fast the money poured in after she and her teammates first sent out emails seeking donations to buy Boyer a bike, especially considering that many around Boulder are dealing with flooding. The team raised the money in one week, she said.
"I think Mr. Boyer has made an impact on every single person on this team," Bellian said. "I know for me, he's really been there for a lot."
Vigers, who was previously the team's captain, said Boyer is a father figure who makes mountain biking fun for everyone.
"He really emphasizes the fact on the team that it's not about ability. You can join the team if you've never seen a bike before," she said. "He's really inclusive and supportive. It creates a sense of community."
Boyer, whose wife and young son were at Boulder High on Thursday to see him receive his gift, said he had considered buying himself a new bike for several years but always ended up investing money in the team. He called his new Niner a "huge upgrade" over his previous bike.
"I always say, 'It doesn't matter what you ride. It doesn't matter how you ride. It matters why you ride,' and I try to be a role model in that sense, but it's going to be a lot harder because this is such a sweet bike," Boyer said. "I'm feeling very spoiled right now. It's pretty awesome that they would have the foresight to think about me and do something like this."
As for the stolen bikes, Boyer said he is working with Boulder High's school resource officer to investigate the theft, but the team did not have the serial numbers for the missing bikes so it would be difficult to locate them.
He said the team relies on community donations and sponsorships to make purchases, and replacement team bikes will be a top priority.
Boyer, who has worked at Boulder High for two decades, founded its cross-country mountain biking team in 2009. The team caught on quickly with students and is now the largest in the state, he said.
It competes in the Colorado High School Cycling League, which in 2011 named Boyer coach of the year for Colorado.
The team has won the last three state mountain biking titles and will race for a fourth Oct. 20 in Eagle.
Denny Brown's son, Parker, has been on the Boulder High team since its founding. Brown called Boyer a "great leader" who more than deserved the bike for all his efforts.
"Ben is one of those rare individuals that can organize and inspire any teenager that crosses his path," Brown said. "I don't think the parents and the team could give him too much."