Squamish’s Coen Skrypnek is working hard for the win, whether on track or off.
Skyrypnek, who currently works as a server at the Watershed Grill when he is not off at a mountain biking race, recently stood on top of the podium when he won at the second round of this year's NW Cup season in Port Angeles, Washington.
Coming in at 2:08.32 in the May 14 race, he said it was a win he worked hard for but didn't expect.
"I don't really have any expectations just because I am a first-year elite after racing both years in junior," he said, adding that when he called to tell his parents he won, they didn't believe him at first.
In downhill racing, participants do two years in juniors when they are 17 or 18 years old, and then once they turn 19 they move up.
Skrypnek turned 19 in January.
"So I'm racing guys now who I've grown up watching," he said, citing, among other racers in his field, Mark Wallace, of Duncan, who came 2:08.95. (Patrick Laffey of Qualicum Beach, came in third at 2:09.18.)
In April, Skrypnek placed fifth at Race 1 of the NW Cup, a downhill race series based in the Pacific Northwest.
It was a finish he was happy with, but between the first and second races, he got more time training on his bike, which clearly paid off.
"I was quite emotional because it's been a long time coming," he said of the win, adding that being it was a victory on Mother's Day, he dedicated it to his 'Mama.'
He credits both his "amazing" parents for supporting his love of his sport all along the way.
"Growing up, I am just so thankful to have them as amazing role models," he said, adding one of the factors that moved the family from Calgary to Squamish a few years ago was his desire to take his mountain biking to the next level.
(His favourite trail in Squamish is currently the "super, super gnarly" Labour of Love in Valleycliffe because of its jumps and variety.)
Skyrypnek said during the winter off-season was likely the hardest he has ever worked in the gym and on his bike.
He financially supports his own racing, so he also worked as many shifts as he could at the restaurant for six months to help fund his race trips.
Skrypnek isn't all about racing and the podium finishes though.
On April 29, he undertook his second Dusk Till Dawn fundraiser, garnering close to $5,300 on Go Fund Me, 60% of which went to Foundry Sea to Sky.
The rest went to his race and travel expenses for the upcoming world cup series
The event involves him — and friends — riding every shuttle-able mountain between Mount Seymour and Pemberton in a single day.
Last year, he supported the Foundry as well as the Stevie Smith Foundation, raising close to $2,500.
He chose to support Foundry again as part of his intent to raise awareness around mental health, especially for youth.
He said that, like a lot of athletics, mountain bike racing is a mentally demanding sport.
"A lot of guys struggle with race anxiety. Or just being under the pressure, and it's not talked about enough. I feel like it could take its toll on a lot of guys and girls — everyone," he said. "I think opening up that talk and having guys reach out to sports psychologists and all that; I think that that's going to be super helpful."
Skrypnek added that he has known some excellent riders who stop racing due to the mental strain of it.
He has also seen the impact of mental health struggles in his family and the larger community, he said, explaining his urge to create a dialogue around it within his sport and beyond.
"If there's anything I can do to open up that talk and just be a bit of an advocate, I will do that," he said.
In terms of the actual event, Skrypnek said the support from the area was phenomenal, including from local businesses that pitched in items for him to raffle off.
About 20 fellow riders joined him on trails throughout parts of the day.
That day there was an accident on the Sea to Sky Highway, which complicated travel up and down the corridor.
He started at about 6 45 a.m. and finished in Pemberton after 8 p.m.
"We did a couple of laps in Pemberton and we finished literally at sunset. So it kind of lives up to its name," he said, with a laugh.
To have energy throughout the day, there was lots of food packed up, which the crew chowed down on in the car between rides.
They were also fuelled by his favourite food, pizza, supplied by Joe Pesto's Wood Fired Pizzeria.
"We had like boxes and boxes. And Joe actually just made those just for us specifically. So it was pretty cool,” he said.
Next, it is back to racing.
In two weeks, Skrypnek is off to the UCI Mountain Biking World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland and then Leogang-Salzburgerland, Austria.
Keep up with him on his website and on Instagram: @coen.skrypnek