Pulling her helmet down over a nut-brown braid and slipping her mouthguard in, 10-year-old Janel Church kicks her heels down on her bike and pedals through a few practice laps at the bike jump park beside the Metchosin Fire Hall.
Her grandfather, Melvin Pallister, looks on.
“I’m very proud of her,” he says, a smile stretching across his face.
And no wonder. Church recently competed in the 2014 BMX Canadian Grand Nationals in Chilliwack with her team, the UFO/Doublecross Trophy Team, and brought home the title of National Girl Number 2, ranking her the second best female BMX rider in all of Canada, beating out girls across all age groups up to 18.
Church also won Canadian National Age Group #1 amongst 10-year olds, something her granddad was also smiling about.
“She just turned 10 in September,” he says. “And all these girls were wondering ‘who’s this girl?’”
Church continues dipping up and down the dirt hills, more comfortable on the bike than speaking to a newspaper reporter, and clearly enjoying herself. Though the spirit of competition is fierce at the national events, she doesn’t take it to heart, Pallister says.
“If she wins or loses, she just shakes it off and carries on.”
There’s a spark in the bright, amber-coloured eyes of this shy pre-teen, though, as she considers the answer to a question about her favourite part of the Grand Nationals. She grins like it’s Christmas morning; being out in front of all the riders, she says.
Church, who’s been riding since she was four, has been making it to nationals since she started, Pallister says.
The drive to win is actually what cost her the top spot for Canada.
“She just needed to get second place to get first for all of Canada,” he says of one of Church’s last races. “But she wanted the win, so she ducked under and …” He mimes hitting the ground. The crash didn’t faze Church, though. She was out the next gate “like a bat out of hell,” her grandpa says.
Back home and practicing twice a week, Church is preparing for the next big competitions: the U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas in January, and the U.S. Grand Nationals in Tulsa later in 2015. She plans to keep racing for years yet, she says, reaching for ever-higher prizes.
Her ultimate ambition: to race for Canada in the Olympics.