LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — There are trailblazers, and then there’s Maddy McDonald.

As she prepares to graduate from Palo Verde High School Friday night, McDonald has left a mountain biking legacy for others to chase. And that’s how the journey could begin for the next girl to lead the way.

For McDonald, it was something she got involved with because her brother Monte was into it. As she’s improved, she has learned a lot about competing — and about herself.

Maddy and Mike McDonald ride “Chain Smoker.”

“It’s taught me how to be disciplined, because I would go on …. I would try to get three rides in every week just to keep myself healthy, and like, just to make me feel good. Mountain biking, to me, is a way to get away from problems,” she said. “You can just go out in nature by yourself and you can push yourself as hard as you want. It made me more confident finding this thing that I have a talent for. I’ve definitely learned a lot. I really like going on a ride for fun. It makes me feel good.”

To those who have watched her grow into the rider she is today, Maddy — short for Madeline — is opening doors and inspiring others who might follow her lead.

“To be it, it helps to see it,” Jen Hanks of the Southern Nevada Mountain Biking Association said. And now girls have that example to follow. “We are slowly moving the needle toward increased girl participation. We see the most success with girl participation when we have female mentorship with both coaches and student-athlete ambassadors.” Maddy is one of those ambassadors.

Mike McDonald, her father and her coach on the RED BURRitOS team, said, “We need more girls, but we need more kids in general to come check it out, see what it’s all about.”

The RED BURRitOS are one of several teams in Southern Nevada that compete in the Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). Other teams include the Vegas Vipers, the Vegas Rattlers, the Hornets, the Ridge Wranglers and the Wheel D’Beast. There are also teams in Pahrump and Logandale. Find more information on youth cycling and local teams here. Hanks said the initiative to encourage girls to get involved — GRiT (Girls Riding Together) — opens opportunities for school kids who are interested.

“She is a fantastic athlete, showing the girls what is possible as a female athlete on the bike,” Hanks said. “She is also welcoming and encouraging to newer athletes, especially young girls. In large part due to her efforts, her team has the highest percentage of girls’ participation in our league.”

Mike McDonald said seven of the 25 members of the RED BURRitOS are girls. To Maddy, there’s a connection that has been built through competing and just hanging out with her teammates.

“We’re all good friends, so I love going to practices and riding with them,” she said. “I love the younger girls. They’re so cute.”

And as the coach, her dad says the younger girls look up to Maddy.

It’s been a solitary journey at times as she’s competed many times as the only girl in the race. That happened again earlier this month in a race at Sawmill Trailhead, just below the Lee Canyon ski resort.

“That was our last race of the NICA league and that one, I raced with the boys because there was only me in my category,” Maddy said. At the start, the announcer shouted out her name as she competed for the last time in high school. Sometimes she is grouped with boys, but sometimes she rides alone.

At Sawmill, she clicked off six laps on the two-mile trail, a total of 12 miles on a mountain bike. She said the course is similar to others, but unique because it winds through pine trees.

She’s learned to compete against herself, paying close attention to her times and trying to improve. But she lights up with a big smile when she talks about competing with others.

One of her favorite events was a community ride near Blue Diamond on a course called “Chain Smoker.” She rode with her dad and two teammates over the 20-mile course and posted a time she says was her best. Not only did she win her division — her time would have been third-best in the men’s 16-39 age group, she said.

As she finishes her run in NICA events, Maddy is looking forward to the chance of coming back to be a “sweeper” — a rider who trails behind the racers to make sure everyone is safe.