If you’ve heard about a B.C. cross-country mountain biker accomplishing a particularly impressive feat recently, there’s a good chance Mike Charuk had something to do with their success.
Highly regarded as one of the province’s most respected mountain bike coaches, Charuk moved from Whistler to Squamish 13 years ago, after seven years of living in the resort full-time and racing as an athlete for Team Whistler.
Before even landing on the West Coast, Charuk studied physical education and sports injuries management, eventually beginning a career as an athletic therapist.
Even then, “I thought, ‘I’d rather be the coach than the therapist,’” Charuk recalled. “But I got distracted, and I went into more therapy … About five years ago I thought ‘I came out here to be a coach,’ so I obtained my advanced coaching diploma through the Canadian Sport Institute.”
Charuk took over as head coach of cross-country program Team Squamish in 2010. Since then, he estimates he’s coached more than 100 riders. Among them are athletes he’s helped land spots on provincial and national teams, podium at races like national and world championships, and win gold medals at the Canada Summer Games. He landed the role as lead mountain bike coach for Cycling BC seven years ago, and has even been honoured as MTB coach of the year by Cycling Canada—all while maintaining his day job as a registered massage therapist.
Now, after more than a decade at the helm of Team Squamish, he’s stepping into a new gig as the head coach of a brand new cycling team, Charge BC-XC racing. Launched last year by Tobin McCallum, the team—currently comprised of eight athletes ranging in age from 13 to 17—is intended to support young high-performance athletes working toward big races like World Cups, World Championships and Olympics.
“Squamish was kind of having a change in direction, with working more on the developing of athletes where Charged BC-XC racing is more of a race crew … so it’s been a nice transition,” Charuk said.
Having Charuk lead coaching duties was a no-brainer, McCallum said. He first met Charuk when his own son, Cam McCallum, was looking for a coach about six years ago.
“There’s no question: He’s the best coach in the world,” McCallum said. “There is no one that can make the kids work so hard and have so much fun at the same time.”
More importantly, Charuk’s coaching skills and style give his athletes the confidence to pursue being the best in the world, McCallum added.
That’s something that Holden Jones—who among numerous impressive results, finished third at the junior men’s world championships in 2017—agrees with.
Jones first met Charuk when he was about eight years old. He praised his coach for always having strong connections in the high-performance sports world and sharing the knowledge of what it takes to earn success on an international stage in the years since. Charuk’s experience makes big dreams “a lot more manageable and achievable,” Jones said.
But once an athlete makes it to that big stage, “It’s easy to forget you belong at a high level race … he was always good at taking that stress off your mind,” Jones added.
Now, after just wrapping up his third year of engineering studies at UBC, Jones is paying that experience back as a mentor rider with Charge BC-XC racing, where more athletes are following in Jones’ footsteps under Charuk’s instruction.
Team member Mara Roldan is currently racing in Europe, while her teammate Eric InJae Sol is gearing up for the South Korean national championships this summer.
Meanwhile, one of Charuk’s longtime athletes, Sean Fincham, just earned third at the Leukerbad Swiss Bike Cup on May 2—one spot ahead of Carter Woods, another of Charuk’s charges. “This is a pretty big deal, because it’s 110 racers and the Swiss are obviously world leaders,” Charuk said.
The pair are preparing for a series of World Cup races in the coming weeks that will ultimately determine who represents Canada at the upcoming Olympics.
By this point you might assume, considering all of this success, that Charuk is well-compensated for his work as a coach.
You’d be wrong.
Unlike many of the paid mountain bike coaches offering up their services these days, every single hour Charuk has dedicated to coaching over the decade has been donated. “I believe in volunteerism, and I’m proud that we had yearly fees of, like, $200 or $250 for the athletes,” he said.
To that end, Charuk said he focuses just as much on his athletes’ development off the bike with his programming. “The bike riding is one part of these individuals, but we’re working on building good people,” he explained.
Agreed McCallum: “Mike is very big on being a well-rounded athlete. So not just being on the bike, but working on your schoolwork, being a part of the community, maybe trying out other sports.”
Despite the accolade, the ever-humble Charuk refused to take the brunt of the credit for his athletes’ successes.
“A kid in Squamish is born; they’re a granite block. We’ve got a whole bunch of people in town that have chisels and hammers, and everyone chips away to bring that athlete out of that [kid],” he said.
“It’s a team community effort. You know, the boys at CORSA [cycles], have been instrumental. Tobin at Charge. We’ve always used Tony Routley with Team Whistler as an advisor and mentor, a coach. So, yeah, it’s not just one person. I’m just one person in the system, it’s always a team.”
Amongst all of his athletes’ podiums and medals, “the accomplishment is more in the program—the blueprint that we’ve kind of established,” he added. “We’re just plugging the kids into that system, and with that, you know champions are going to come out of it … if you have a good system in place, success will follow it.”