Vernon’s Shylo Orchard (fifth from right) with some of her 2017 hardware and some of her biggest fans, students she works with the alternative learning program. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Vernon’s Shylo Orchard (fifth from right) with some of her 2017 hardware and some of her biggest fans, students she works with the alternative learning program. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Students inspire Orchard to big year

Vernon BMX bike rider, education assistant Shylo Orchard is coming off her most successful year ever

Her biggest fans, outside her family, are the kids Shylo Orchard works with at the Vernon School District’s alternative learning program.

Those kids have, in some ways, helped Orchard become one of the best female BMX bike riders for her age group in North America, and Orchard sees parallels between the alternative program and BMX racing.

“The students me off to a race saying ‘good luck, let me know how you did,’” said Orchard, 41, a certified education assistant. “One kid, he took credit for my win (U.S. Grand Nationals) in Tulsa because he gave me a pep talk and said I did all the right things, so I have coaches all over the place.

“When I come back, they’re the first people that want to know how I did. The only time I miss work is for racing and the staff here and the school district backs me on that.”

The alternative learning program is for kids in Grades 8 to 10 aged 13-18. It’s exactly what it says it is: an alternative to school and for Orchard’s students, it works.

They talk about differnet mind sets and what it takes to be mentally strong. Sometimes the mental games you play with yourself, Orchard tells her students, can be negative or positive, and they talk about the power of thought how that can take you somewhere.

“I’ve explained my different powers of thought to the kids and they’ve explained different ways to look at things for me to add power to my thoughts with achieving my goals,” she said. “Things like not quitting, not giving up, or persevering when things get hard and making it work, being happy and thankful for what the outcome is because I’ve participated and tried my best.”

“We all feed off each other that way.”

BMX bike racing, said Orchard, is like the program she works in: it’s an alternative sport.

“You’re an individual racer but on one big team,” said Orchard. “And you can make it as little or big as you want it. You can be a top-10 rider at the local track and not travel anywhere, or there are families who remortgage their house and pull their kids out of school and travel around to every race in Canada and the U.S. and shoot off all their goals, like making the top-ranked riders.

“Goal setting in BMX is huge.”

At the beginning of the 2017 season, Orchard scribbled down 10 goals in April. She made eight of them.

She wanted to a Club No. 1 rider – check; be a District No. 1 (10,000 points and achieving that rank for first time) – check; Provincial No. 1 – check; Canadian National Age Group No. 1 – yes.

“My goal was top-three but I ended up No. 1 in Canada,” smiled Orchard.

Continuing with the goals: racing at the world finals (in South Carolina) – yes, although she got taken out by an Australian during a race – “and I don’t mean for dinner and a movie,” laughed Orchard – and ended up 16th out of 57 women. Her goal was top-eight. And she wanted to be a U.S. National Overall top-10 and ended up No. 3, her highest ranking ever.

At those U.S. Grand Nationals in Tulsa, she won her age group and collected a trophy bigger than she is. Orchard won the Race of Champions there, as well. Oh yes: she had to race younger in the Race of Champions because of her birthday, which made her the oldest competitor in the race, and she won her 41-45 age group as the youngest lady in the field at 41.

“It was the best year I’ve ever had,” said Orchard.

The only two goals she didn’t achieve from her list was perfect attendance at races at the Kelowna and her home Vernon BMX Clubs, but that’s only because she was away racing at the world championships.

Next year, Orchard will have a chance to shine on her home’s new track as Vernon will host one of five Canadian national series races Sept. 14-16.

“We tried to get it for the summer to pull in more visitors but I guarantee there will be tons of riders from the U.S. and Canada all coming because it’s the last chance to get (series) points,” she said.

The Vernon BMX Club, which saved money for three years to raise $23,000 to install a new Pro Start safety gate this seasson, will be rebuilding its track in 2018. That means new corners, new everything. The track will be bulldozed in March.

Oh and don’t be surprised if you see Orchard’s students volunteering during a race or the nationals weekend.

“They love helping the younger kids,” she said. “These kids are the best at helping. Everywhere we go, whether it’s the horseshoe club or doing the Good Food Box at the All Saints Anglican Church, they help out there.

“When they come to the track I’ll introduce them to a new rider that needs their kick stand off their bike.. They find the tools, are very helpful, and walk away feeling needed and appreciated.”

The Vernon BMX Club is open to all, said Orchard. You don’t have to have a bike to be part of the club, voted one of the top-10 BMX clubs in Western North America. And the club parallels the alternative learning centre.