The St. Albert BMX club may be seeing smaller membership numbers this summer but that isn’t stopping them from achieving national recognition.
The club, which hosted a successful Try-it event on Sunday, currently boasts a quartet of young girls who brought home national plates after competing in Calgary at the Canadian Championships on Saturday.
Hailyn Walsh, 7, took home a plate and is now ranked fourth nationwide in her age group. Gretchen Hook, 9, ranks eight in her age group after the event. Ariana van Leeuwen, 11, and Aaliyah van Leeuwen, 12, both slot in at sixth in their respective age groups.
It is quite an accomplishment to see four girls from a small club such as St. Albert's rank within the national top 10 in each of their age groups. Club vice-president Angela van Leeuwen said it is a testament to how dedicated the riders are to the sport and how much support the club provides to its members.
“We have a ton of talent here,” said van Leeuwen. “One of our coaches has raced [at The] Worlds and we want to raise good riders here on the track.”
That coach, Kaileb Torrie, was absent from the event but he had a good reason: he was racing in a national event with the hopes of bringing yet another honour to the club.
One of those talented riders was Aaliyah. She said her love of BMX came when she decided to stop playing soccer. Now, after years of riding tracks around the province and with a national plate displayed on her bike, she said the sport has captured her heart.
“I have been riding for three years. This would have been my fourth, but COVID took a year off,” said Aaliyah. “[My sister] Ariana started doing BMXing, and then my mom wouldn’t let me do soccer any more so I decided to do BMX and now I like it more than anything.”
Aaliyah also mentioned how proud she is to take home a national plate.
“It felt good because that meant I was the sixth-best 12-year-old girl in Canada.”
The girls weren’t alone at the nationals. The club had a few older riders compete in the form of Mike, Tara, and Jack Hook. Mike has been biking in the community for quite a long time, but recently rediscovered his love of BMX.
“I started when I was about 12 and raced until 18 and started mountain-bike racing,” said Hook. “My son was born later on and he decided to try [BMX] and I realized there were a bunch of old dads hanging around, so I bought a bike and now my wife races and my daughter races and it’s become a fabulous thing.”
There is also something that differentiates the St. Albert BMX club from others. The track is among the best in the province, boasting the only pro-set section in northern Alberta, and plans to build the first-ever super-cross hill in the province.
Hook said the quality of the track goes a long way in helping build up the skill of the young riders who hope to someday compete at higher levels.
“This is probably the paramount facility in Alberta,” said Hook. “Over the next couple of years, it's going to get really quite spectacular ... We are going to build a super-cross hill that is similar to the Olympic tracks and the goal is to get The Worlds here, which would be a monstrous event for St. Albert to have.”
While the club is ecstatic about the success of their current membership, they are also anxious to grow those numbers in the coming months. Hook said the club is planning a huge marketing strategy in the new year to help expose kids to the sport, a strategy in which he hopes will help balloon membership to more than 100 riders.
“We are going to do a big blitz at the start of the year,” said Hook. “We’re going to canvas schools and bring rec academy kids, en masse, and their class on those days will be to rip around the track.
“So, the membership should spool up like crazy because, from my standpoint, my favourite rider is a six-year-old because if they love it they will do it over and over and be riding for 10 or 15 years.”