Vernon BMX Club president Shylo Orchard is hopeful the club can return to regular racing at its home Ranger Park off 20th Street in 2021. For the first time since its inception in 1982, the club did not run this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

Vernon BMX Club stuck at starting gate in 2020

COVID cancels club activities for first time since inception in 1982; hope for full return in 2021

Every Monday and Tuesday evening from April through October, the Vernon BMX club is busy at its home off 20th Street, Ranger Park, having a good time.

People from kids to adults are riding their bikes around the refurbished track. New members are signed up. After their races, riders give high-fives, enjoy a post-ride hot dog, hamburger or chili from the barbecue, and general merriment. Heck, they even invite the neighbours in the houses surrounding the park for food, public relations being essential in the ‘hood. And it’s worked well since the club formed in 1982.

That’s in a usual year.

Of course, 2020 has been anything but usual and the Vernon BMX club has felt the effect.

While Ranger Park has stayed open for community use, the club – which has not missed a year of operating in its 37-year existence – failed to make it out of the starting gate.

“We really struggled this year with ‘do we open, do we not open?’” said club president Shylo Orchard. “It was recreation vs WRECKreation. The club has been around so long, we are committed to so many different things, be it community, connection, support, hugs, high-fives.

“The restrictions with COVID played a crazy part.”

The year began with the club super stoked for the upcoming season.

The Vernon BMX Club, in February, was awarded a major financial grant from the 100 Men Who Give A Damn group, cash that went to properly setting up and professionally wiring the club’s original building, erected in 1982. Cash that would help the club stop blowing breakers nearly every race; allowing the club announcer to talk at the same time popcorn was being popped. Cash that eliminated a spider’s web of electrical and extension cords in the building.

And more retrofitting for the building was in the plans.

But then came the pandemic.

“This year was going to be one of the best years for the club,” said Orchard. “We are one of the largest clubs in Canada (close to 250 members) and we take pride in that. Then boom, COVID hit and everything closed down. All parks were closed. The city (Vernon) has always been a great supporter of our club so we decided to work closely with the city.”

The plan was for a May 20 opening. COVID signs would be in place, as would social and physical distancing measures, to allow club members, their families and the community on the track.

Week after week, the club executive kept meeting, going over rules and recommendations released by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“Only 50 people could be in the park. Our club alone has 18-to-21 volunteers to run a race,” said Orchard. “That’s a huge chunk of the 50 right there. There could be no spectators, no siblings, no neighbours. We love our neighbours immensely. Only one parent per rider could be allowed in and that parent had to be on the other side of the park.”

No new members would be welcome, a ruling that Orchard said left her speechless. And the club wasn’t willing to do that. No hanging around to socialize after the races, Orchard’s personal favourite thing about the Vernon BMX Club.

But the one suggestion that Orchard said made her draw the line was allowing only Vernon club members to attend the park.

“I said no. Our club has always been about welcoming the community and surrounding clubs,” she said. “We never say no to Kelowna, Kamloops or Penticton family BMXers. Our club prides itself on welcoming newcomers to the BMX family all the time.

“To have 50 people in the park and turn people away because we already have 50 people inside would break my heart and go against everything we stand for.”

So, no club activities for 2020 but Orchard is hopeful the club can return to full action in 2021. If not, plans will be put in place to allow for club racing.

“Maybe we’ll have multiple race nights so we’re not rushed and restricted and the whole family can come in,” said Orchard. “There are ways to make it happen. This year has been new for everybody.”

Vernon BMX Club members kept in touch throughout the summer by doing different contests online, showing how their families were staying active in healthy ways.

“We gave out T-shirts, prizes, swag bags, it was awesome,” said Orchard. “We will want to stay connected and promote family but in a safe environment.”

READ MORE: Local artist touches up Vernon BMX Club shed wall

READ MORE: New-look Ranger Park coming for Vernon BMX

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