Much like the BMX track she used to pedal around as a kid, life has come full circle for Vernon’s Shylo Orchard.
Now a 37-year-old mother of two, Orchard spent five years wheeling around the bumps, berms and turns at Ranger Park (and countless other tracks around B.C.) in the mid- to late-1980s.
Her grandparents, Jim and recently deceased Hilda, heard the Vernon BMX Club’s advertisement on the radio coming home from church one day. They got her involved and soon after she was hooked.
“I remember one summer we were only home for 10 days,” said Orchard, whose little brother Dallas also competed. “We were living out of the car going from track to track to track in a tent trailer.”
BMX quickly became a family pastime for the Orchards, who became regular fixtures at the Vernon track. The sport’s all-inclusive approach made it appealing, said Orchard, a CEA at the school district’s Alternative Learning Program.
“It’s not just a sport for whoever is participating. It’s a sport that can involve the whole family.
“My mom ran the moto shed, my dad was a corner official, my brother and I raced and my grandma worked in the concession.”
However, life got in the way and Orchard eventually left BMX in Grade 7 to pursue other interests, namely baseball and other team sports.
It wasn’t until 2004, when her two boys – Jared and Landon Fitt, now 12 and 13, respectively – began showing an interest in bikes, that she reconnected with the forested Ranger Park.
“They were both riding two-wheelers by the time they were two,” smiled Orchard, who decided to take them to check out the park.
It was there that she met the Hill clan – parents Don and Arleigh, son Kevin (now a Olympic hopeful in snowboard-cross) and daughter Shanda – who encouraged her to rejoin the club.
It took two weeks of watching Jared and Landon cruise the course before the bike bug bit, and Orchard found herself getting back in the saddle.
“They totally brought it back to me,” said Orchard. “I just wanted to play with the boys. I kind of fumbled around, but going every Tuesday you get a bit better. Training and eating right, it’s crazy where it just goes from there.”
Where it went for Orchard was a North American age-group championship.
After winning the women’s 36-40 division at Canadian nationals earlier this year, Orchard added the U.S. title when she and a handful of KRAPP (Keep Racing At Peak Performance) Weasel Racing teammates entered ABA Grand Nationals last month in Tulsa, Okla.
The win was extra special for Orchard as it was the first time she beat rival Emily Krickler of Elkridge, Md. since the two began battling in 2009.
“She was on my list,” grinned Orchard, who earned a towering trophy for the win. “This race, I did it and it’s the first time she’s ever gotten second at the Grands.”
Being a North American champion also earns Orchard superhero status with her kids.
“They’re at the age now where they run circles around me on the snowboard, and they’re amazing mountain bikers, so mom’s gotta have a one-up when she can,” she laughed.
Orchard praised her KRAPP Weasel teammates – Dean Botterill (men’s 46-50), Chris Spence (men’s 41-45) and Ken Botterill (men’s 61+) – for battling in stacked divisions in Tulsa. Spence went up against 18 ex-pro riders in his class, and Ken Botterill made the main in the Race of Champions, finishing sixth overall.
“They did really well considering the calibre.”
Orchard hasn’t really changed her approach to BMX racing since she was little. A typical moto lasts anywhere from 25 to 30 seconds, so she said a strong start is key.
“My gate and my first straight are my strengths,” she said. “Even when I was little I would just pretend the race was to the first corner. Once you get to the first corner, it’s just block and defend. I still teach that to kids today.”
One thing that has changed in BMX is a technique known as pumping, which didn’t exist back then.
Advanced riders are able use their bodies to allow the bike to stay as smooth as possible over jumps and rhythm sections to increase speed and flow through the course more efficiently.
“You can get more speed off the backside of a jump,” said Orchard. “Now when you watch the pros race – (Vernon’s) Brendan Davies, he can do the track faster than most of our club can do it pedalling.”
When Orchard returned to Vernon BMX Club, it was like nothing had changed. Obviously, the neighbourhood around it had grown up, but Ranger Park continues to shade its riders and spectators from both the rain and heat.
“Things had changed, but you couldn’t tell me 20 years had passed,” said Orchard. “All the trees are the same, all the old fir and pine trees. That’s one of my connections to the park.
“We have one of the best parks, best tracks, the best surface. It’s completely maintained.”
Orchard thanked team sponsors Canwest Propane, Skyride Cycle, Silver Star Mountain Resort and A&W.