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Pinkbike Academy Season 2 launches

Squamish rider among those vying for $30,000 and a pro contract.

It's probably safe to say that becoming a professional rider wasn't top of mind for Tori Wood when she started mountain biking in Squamish four years ago.

She'd just arrived in town and decided she needed something to throw herself into.

"I needed something new and something to learn and progress at, because I was having a hard time with my mental health and really struggling in that sense," Wood told The Chief.

"It was nice to find something that gave me a bit more of a purpose...I'd go out every day; I'd be crashing every day. I'd be getting back up and going and doing it again until I could get it right. I'd just come home destroyed. My shins would be [hurt]. I'd have all the skin off my arms gone. I'd just be like, 'I love this sport. It's so fun — it's trying to kill me, but I love it so much.'

"Just seeing yourself get better and better — it's so addicting."

Apparently, Wood, who's currently studying for her master's in counselling psychology, got better very quickly.

Fast forward to this year, and she found herself as one of 10 contestants in the second season of the Pinkbike Academy, which started airing on Oct. 21.

The series, which was filmed this summer, pits contestants against each other in weekly elimination challenges at Big White.

The last man and woman standing will each get the resources to kickstart their careers —  $30,000 cash and a contract deal with Orbea Bikes.

Wood said she applied to the show after friends urged to her to give it a try, even though she felt it was a long shot. While she'd attained top times for several trails, she'd never had competition experience.

Her doubts were lifted, however, when organizers invited her for an interview and later told her on the spot that she was in.

"It honestly happened very quickly, and it was kind of, like, surreal," said the 29-year-old. "I didn't actually process the fact that I was going to go and be in the competition until a month before."

Wood isn't the only contestant with a link to Squamish. Emmett Hancock, a Kelowna native, had been living in Squamish for a year at the time of the show's filming.

Two judges will be deciding each week who makes the cut and who gets sent home.

One of the judges, Christina Chapetta, told The Chief this show is giving 10 riders a chance that she wishes she had.

"This is definitely an opportunity that I would've wanted as an enduro racer," said Chapetta, who also works as a presenter at Pinkbike.

"I raced myself back in the day, and I know how hard it is to get the support you need and, honestly, there's just not enough of it out there."

Even those who don't win can benefit, she said, as there may be potential sponsors watching the show and taking notes.

That's not to say that winning isn't a big deal.

It's a great way to get into the industry, Chapetta said.

Indeed, the first winner of the Pinkbike academy, Evan Wall, has been able to establish a career for himself. Most recently, he took 14th place at EWS Tweed Valley.

It's a result that Chapetta said is commensurate with expectations of a factory-backed rider.

This year, more emphasis will be given to challenges that focus on racing skills, she said.

There are also two masked mystery professional riders. They participate in the events to give a comparison of how the contestants are faring against a professional standard.

At the same time, fast racing times aren't the only factor, Chapetta said.

She noted the judges also need to consider who will represent the brand well, not just in terms of performance, but in terms of character.

So far, Wood seems to be making a favourable impression.

Chapetta lauded the Squamish rider when speaking to The Chief.

"[Wood's] relatively new to the sport so to see her have the skills and the determination that she does is very inspiring," said Chapetta. "She's not the youngest competitor, she's closer to my age, in her upper 20s, I believe, so I think it's really rad to see women not only getting into the sport a little bit later than some people that have experience, but being able to use that to her advantage."

At the end of the day, a lot will be at stake.

"The cash prize that we're giving, along with the pro contract with Orbea, is one of the highest cash prizes in the entire mountain bike industry," said Chapetta. "You barely win that much money for competing at a Red Bull Rampage or any of those types of events."

New episodes will be posted to Pinkbike's YouTube channel every Thursday until Dec. 23.