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Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2019
A mountain bike metamorphosis in Sudbury
by Randy Pascal

Born of a competitive root, the Walden Mountain Bike Club (WMBC) is enjoying something of a metamorphosis these days. Thankfully, the single-biggest impact from this transformation has been a noteworthy growth in membership, one which brings a huge smile to the face of WMBC president Rob St Marseille.

“I think the club has really found its groove,” St Marseille said recently. It was this same gentleman who helped create the club back in the fall of 2008, as the need to organize this particular sporting sector grew critical with the awarding of the 2010 Ontario Summer Games to the Sudbury region.

“When we first started, the racing team kind of drove the excitement about the bike club. But we've gotten a lot more involved with community events now, starting youth rides, doing skill sessions, hosting maintenance clinics and fat bike demo days with the stores. We have a ladies group as part of the club, we're doing social rides and velo fests.”

“And our membership has more than doubled in the past 18 months,” beamed St Marseille. “That's been the wonderful thing to watch, how the recreational and social aspect of our bike club has blossomed. The members themselves have taken ownership of that and are actively participating in the events.”

It was not long after the staging of the Summer Games that the WMBC “Wolfpak Racing Team” emerged, led in the early days by the likes of Dominic Girard, Alex Anstice, Charlie Reid, Erica Bota and others. Just two short years later, St Marseille and company had tackled much larger challenges, hosting an Ontario Cup race in 2012 and a Canada Cup event twelve months later.

“We were pretty busy, hosting events in five out of six years,” suggested St Marseille. “I think the group was tired and needed to take a breath.” That organizational timeout proved extremely valuable, setting the stage for a whole new wave of activities, attracting with it a completely different clientele.

“There are lots of little things that the club does that allows pretty much every kind of mountain bike rider to be able to do something with us,” explained St Marseille. “The social rides (third Tuesday of every month) are geared to people who are just new to mountain biking. We divide the rides up according to peoples' abilities.”

“What you're seeing, not just with our club, but with the cycling community in generally, is an effort to really start to link. The events that the club is starting to take on and participate in are allowing for not only all levels of bikers, but also allowing families to participate.”

Still, those who yearn to test themselves against the stopwatch and the Ontario mountain bike elite are not about to suddenly be cast to the curb. “We have the best of both worlds,” said St Marseille. “The Wolfpak is a highly respected, well-established team within mountain bike circles. Members of the team really try and focus on being good ambassadors for the sport.”

“We try and make it fun and enjoy ourselves while we are there, racing,” he continued. “We cheer for each other, we cheer for other teams, we cheer for our friends.” These days, St Marseille finds himself devoting more time to his own personal racing goals, his role as a coach lessened somewhat by the natural progression of Wolfpak riders.

“This is one of the wonderful things about our team,” he said. “I used to coach most of them, but they now understand the why behind the how, so they are able to design their own programs. But we will help anyone who wants to try.”

Closer to home, the effects of the club transition can be noticed, almost immediately, on the grounds of the Naughton Trails. “When we were doing the racing events, a lot of energy went into making race courses, not trails,” said St Marseille. “We've taken the last couple of years to do a little work at home, always trying to add a little tweak here or there every year.”

The man spearheading those efforts is one Rusty Hopper, a gentleman who is as emblematic of the benefits of sporting co-operation as anyone in northern Ontario. The current vice-president of the WMBC also sits on the board of directors of the Walden Cross Country Ski Club, a key and critical collaborative effort.

“With the two clubs using the facility, they have created a facility that is used year-round,” said Hopper. “They both act as stewards of the trail system there. Each has their own trail system, but there is a skinny and a wide trail system, and both clubs use parts of both systems.” With help from both parties, a formal arrangement was created.

“There is a trail agreement between the two parties to help outline how they have responsibilities on both sides of the fence,” said Hopper. “I really try and make it happen between the two groups, sitting in both pockets. It makes things run a lot more smoothly.”

Of course, given the workload that is shouldered by this incredible volunteer, it would be difficult for folks from either partner organization to shun the move towards teamwork that Hopper constantly promotes. “I'm really involved with the planning of the maintenance and development of the trails, the organization of the courses, sort of figuring out what needs to get done, and sometimes doing what needs to get done.”

The drive for his 24/7 approach directed towards two of his primary passions can be summarized, in jest, in the mind of Rusty Hopper. “I don't know whether I'm a cross-country skier who mountain bikes in the off-season, or a mountain biker who cross-country skies in the off-season, or just an alcoholic with a mountain bike and cycling problem,” he stated, clearly tongue in cheek.

But with the recreational and social component of the WMBC definitely on the rise, Hopper should fit right in.

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