For the second consecutive year, Pemberton Secondary School (PSS) has won the British Columbia High School Mountain Biking Championship.
Spud Valley students acquitted themselves well on May 27 in Rossland, B.C. Isla Inglis was the only Pembertonian to win a race outright, prevailing in the Grade 10 girls’ enduro and finishing third in cross-country. Eighth-grade boy Felix Lablanc also had a meet to remember, placing second in cross-country and fourth in enduro.
Meanwhile, Sophie Firth and Rebecca Beaton rode to second and fourth, respectively, in the senior girls’ cross-country event, with Will Taylor ending up 11th among senior boys.
Over on the enduro side, Beaton placed second and Firth seventh, while Sami Teitzel, Patrick Tarling and Taylor were fourth, sixth and 13th.
‘All in it together’
When the dust had settled, a bevy of competitive results across all age groups launched the 27 PSS competitors to the overall title. It’s an impressive feat considering that more than 400 high schoolers took part in the contest, with 137 boys in the senior age group and 100 more in Grade 10.
“The reason why we won the banner is that we had so many kids do very well—not just getting on the podium, but finishing in the top quarter of the field,” said head coach Nicole Jean. “I had great parents with me as well who fixed bikes, fetched food and all of that, so they also were part of the team.”
Jean has worked at PSS for nearly three decades and is currently a social studies teacher. A former varsity field hockey player, she bought her first mountain bike in 1992 and has coached her school’s team for about 10 years. Her coaching philosophy: help the youth understand and appreciate the team aspects of their largely individual sport.
“They’re all in it together, and even the person that comes in last place is important to the team,” Jean explained. “They’ve all been improving quite dramatically. I think the strength of our team is that we have a large number of girls and we have kids from every grade.”
The PSS unit had another successful North Shore Mountain Bike League season, competing in a handful of races in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler and the Sunshine Coast. Jean describes her team as a goofy and gregarious bunch that is, for the most part, deeply supportive of its own.
“There’s a lot of kids on the team that I’m not in any classes with,” said Beaton. “But being at those races, especially at provincials … it really gives us a chance to get to know each other, and we’re all there for the same reason.”
Many of Pemberton’s youth are talented mountain bikers, but many prefer the speed and thrill of downhill. According to Beaton, there was some anxiety about racing cross-country and enduro at PSS’ team meeting the night before the event, but she credits Jean with helping calm their nerves.
Jean reminded her squad that every honest effort—regardless of whether or not it produced a medal—was a chance to earn points in the overall standings, and the young riders gave their all.
“By the end of my personal cross-country race, I thought I was going to throw up,” Beaton admitted. “Not ideal, not a very fun race, but it’s nice that we did the cross-country [first] because then you can look forward to the enduro. I’m confident in the enduro and the trails are super fun, so we just kind of focus on keeping it fun.
“Obviously, we want to do well and we want to push ourselves, but not to the point where it’s a super miserable day.”
Going for three
In 2022, many PSS students were shocked to win the banner at provincials. Not so this time around—Beaton and most of her teammates were returning for another season and collectively confident in their abilities. They’d grasped the title once before. They wanted it again. They went out and earned it.
Despite the diversity of ages and genders on its roster, the PSS mountain bike team is closely knit. By and large, upperclassmen mentor eighth graders and boys support girls. In fact, the number of females on the team has almost doubled over the course of the last calendar year.
All in all, Jean estimates that nearly 10 per cent of the PSS student body competes on the bike team: a tremendous ratio compared to many other institutions. That, along with holistic coaching and a deep talent pool, helps PSS hold its own against much larger schools in much larger cities.
The team is much adored by other students, faculty members and Pembertonians at large, and Beaton feels the love. “We’re a really close community here in Pemberton,” she said. “You see people [on the street] and they’re like: ‘oh my gosh, I heard you guys did so well at provincials! Congratulations!’ And I’m like: ‘how do you even know that?’ People are just so awesome about it.”
Next year, the PSS crew aims for a provincial three-peat. Doing so would be the ultimate cherry on the cake for outgoing seniors like Beaton, who is entering Grade 12. Above all, team leaders strive to maintain a healthy culture, reminding each athlete that they are valued regardless of age, gender or experience level.
Full results from provincials are available at tinyurl.com/2hy9yscr