Canadian National team and Norco Factory Racing rider, Haley Smith, rides at the Stellenbosch World Cup in South Africa March 10. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Duncan)

Team Canada mountain biker started training at Bear Mountain by chance

This weekend is the third annual Bear Mountain Bike Fest

The first Canada Cup 2018 race will kick off at Bear Mountain this weekend.

It’s the third annual Bear Mountain Bike Fest and it’s also the third race Team Canada and Norco Factory Racing rider, Haley Smith, has competed in on the local mountain.

Smith, an Ontario native, has called Victoria home for about five months of the year since 2014. It was the first year she left Ontario to train with the national team, and she spent the first month training in Arizona and was supposed to complete the next two months in Utah, but their accommodations fell through.

The team had two options, to go back to their respective homes and train or stay together and find a new location. Dan Proulx, head coach of the Canadian Mountain Bike Team, suggested the team come to Victoria and train, so they did.

The West Shore is Smith’s favourite place to train, as she is able to be outside year round. She likes the fact that she can still train in Canada, which makes her feel at home. She thinks the terrain is challenging and primal, which keeps her in touch with nature, she said. Coming from the small town of Uxbridge, she said the size of the region is perfect for her.

“I spend a lot of time on MLS,” Smith said with a laugh, adding she sends her parents links for houses she would love to buy on the West Shore.

She has traveled all over the world competing in mountain biking, something she didn’t know would be a possibility for her when she started riding.

Smith competed at the Stellenbosch World Cup in South Africa earlier this month, and finished 23rd in the Elite Women’s division.

Her dad is a mountain biker and her older brother Tavis was on his high school team. Tavis noted there weren’t many girls racing and that the team would have a better shot at the championships if they had a girl on the team, so he told Smith – who was in Grade 7 – she could get a day off of school if she raced. He took her out riding a couple of times before the provincial championships and that was her introduction to the sport.

Smith said she wasn’t very good, but was addicted to how challenging it was. Growing up she danced and played rep hockey and soccer and didn’t really get into cycling until her hockey career finished.

Her mom, Lynn Turner, was driving home from work one day and she saw Smith and Tavis biking close to the house, so Smith, who was getting used to her clip-in pedals, waved to her mom and her bike tipped and she fell down a ditch.

But Smith has a tenacious spirit and when she decides she wants to learn how to do something she attacks it with a vengeance, Turner said.

As far as she has come in the last five years as a mountain biker, she gives a lot of credit to Proulx, that he has empowered her and gave her confidence.

“I’m the rider I am because of Dan, he’s helped me in so many ways, apart from technical coaching, he has spent the last five years helping me cultivate belief in myself,” she said.

Technically, Proulx said Smith has had to improve on skill in her gap jumps, but that she’s got a world class engine, and what sets her apart is her work ethic and attention to detail.

Smith said it took her a lot of practice to get her gap jumps up to par. Her dad built her a jump in the backyard that had a door on the top of it and once she felt she could conquer the visual, he removed the door.

“Most high performance athletes, we all struggle with fear that you aren’t good enough, which drives you to try,” Smith said.

Smith isn’t a stranger to challenges, she spent the summer of 2008 in the hospital after suffering from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. She said sports helped her through that tough time and to this day believes she would feel lost if she didn’t have mountain biking. The sport teaches life lessons, she said, learning to overcome, setting goals, having purpose, all things important for mental health.

“Mountain biking has built me up over the last eight years,” Smith said. “I’m more optimistic, in that even when I’ve failed, I’ve been able to bounce back, I’m more resilient.”

Her teammates are Olympians Catharine Pendrel and Emily Batty. She said it was scary training with them at first because she didn’t want hold them up, but Proulx pushed her to ride with them anyway. Now, it’s her normal and she really enjoys training with people she looks up to.

For the upcoming Cup ride, she doesn’t necessarily feel like she has an advantage over her competitors across the country because the riders are so skilled that they are able to nail a course within a day or two, she said.

It’s a quick turnaround for Smith after the Cup race, she’s headed to her first Commonwealth Games in Australia, which starts April 4.


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