Culture

Catharine Pendrel journal: Building a MTB course for kids during the shutdown

When her racing season was postponed due to COVID-19, two-time world champion Catharine Pendrel set to work building trails for kids in her hometown of Kamloops, British Columbia.

When you need to find a silver lining you usually can. For me, the loss of racing and travel this summer meant having to reorient my purpose and goals in a big way. Rather than striving for an Olympic spot and World Cup podium performances, I had to dial my mental and training intensity back, way back and find my motivation and value outside of racing.

I was president of our local bike association, the Kamloops Bike Riders Association (KBRA) from 2016-2018. While in this position a local children’s cycling coach, Chris Martin, from DMB Mountain Bike Coaching, approached me about creating a kid’s league and creating opportunities for kids to try mountain-bike racing. Naturally it was an easy sell and we got to work creating an annual six-week skills and race series that has sold out the past two seasons. We call it the KBRA Kid’s League.

Catharine during a kids league session. Photo: Catharine Pendrel

One of the biggest challenges to hosting kids events for us in hilly Kamloops was actually having the appropriate terrain for our 70 varied ability kids, aged 7-12 years old. So, last year I approached the city of Kamloops about building some new trails near my home. Normally, building trails is a multi-month or multi-year process of consulting stakeholders and getting approval, but the city of Kamloops actually had an area designated for beginner bike trails just waiting for the right group to develop. It was like being gifted a new bike; when we were presented with the land I was already dreaming about what we could do with it. With the help of my neighbor Martin — a kids league parent and volunteer trail builder — and the support of the KBRA we got right to work that fall laying out the design and putting tools in the ground.

Pendrel and her neighbor Martin working on trails. Photo: Catharine Pendrel

We really wanted to host one of our KBRA Kid’s League events there this spring, which was maybe a bit ambitious with Olympic qualifiers and the work still needing to be done, but hey I’m an optimist.

And then, before the snow had event melted, COVID-19 arrived and all of our daily realities and priorities were altered. Races were canceled, as were organized sports for kids. Orders came down to stay in your own community, and many folks discovered their bicycles.

With kids and parents in British Columbia at home from work, but still able to recreate outside alone or as a family, I have never seen so many people out riding. My street had a bike jump at the end of every driveway and kids racing back and forth all day. Biking became more than ever our release, our normalcy, our escape from stress whether riding inside or out.

Obviously, now is far from a perfect time in the world, but it became the perfect time for building trails for kids and newer riders, and that’s what I’ve been up to. My neighbor Martin and I got back to digging this spring, each tackling different sections of the 1.1-kilometer course. More members of the KBRA and kid’s league signed up to smoothen and widen various sections and local companies wanted to help too so we got bridges built, lumber donated and even a mini excavator and operator loaned for four days.

Pendrel and other volunteers have been working on a new 1.1km stretch of trail. Photo: Catharine Pendrel

Every day while out digging we had kids ride by chasing the rocks that my young neighbor Aliya had painted for us for course marking. Every day we have parents telling us how great it was having trails added to their neighborhood. When the world feels so uncertain and gloomy it has been a huge dose of sunshine giving kids something new and helping them discover more terrain by bicycle. At the moment it feels like one of the best ways I can contribute to my community and it has helped my head as well by having a new goal alongside training for a still uncertain return of racing.

Photo: Sean Jenkins

We’re still working on signage and expanding what we have, but when the world opens up and you can come for a ride in Kamloops, make sure you check out our little track at the Dufferin Wetlands. And, if you are interested in what it takes to start a kids league in your town, check out our KBRA Kid’s League Facebook page or send me a note on Instagram or Facebook.