People use the expression “It’s like riding a bike” in reference to a task that’s easy to do, as if it’s almost second nature, one that seems to require no thought or skill whatsoever. Riding a bicycle may be a relatively easy thing to do next to, say, riding an ostrich. However, imagine careening down the side of a mountain on a two wheeled bicycle at speeds of up to 95 km per hour, with boulders, rocks, tree roots and the odd tree in your path around which you must maneuver lest you run into it and make acquaintance with more than you care to, or do a nasty face plant. This is the sport of downhill mountain biking, where a 3 km long course takes about 3 or 4 minutes to complete, depending on how finely tuned the bike is and how mentally prepared you are. A chain that falls off half way can cost you the race, as can jumpy nerves, a misjudged tree or an unseen rock. It’s funny that we think of training for sports in terms of the physical aspect: push-ups and sit-ups, weight training, running and repetition, repetition, repetition – a thousand free throws, a hundred pucks in the top right hand corner of the net, or even a bucketful of balls hit at the golfing range. We often forget about the mental training and the visualization that must accompany sports. In downhill bicycle racing these aspects are key to success.
Just ask Kwanah Sioui-Moar, an 18-year-old Huron-Cree from Wendake, Quebec, who burst onto the scene a few years ago. He has recently returned from the World Championships in Tempur, Austria. The “Arrow” as he’s nicknamed, competed there with over 90 of the best downhill specialists from around the world on a very tough course and placed a very respectable 38th. This was his first ever performance at a competition of this calibre, where there were television crews and journalists every which way you turned. This was also his first trip to Europe. Kwanah says he was very nervous and had put a lot of pressure on himself in the weeks leading up to the competition. He and his team arrived a week before the race to adjust to the time difference and the altitude difference and do the other preparations needed. This involved walking over every inch of the course, noting each and every rock, root and tree, then visualizing lines that would work and allow him to descend to the finish line before everyone else.
It’s a tricky job because speed and skill are determining factors at every point: if you go too fast around a corner, you may lose control and smash into a tree; if you don’t have enough speed going off a jump, you may not be able to clear other obstacles. After the visualization, one must try the various lines to see which is best and then work on the sections that present any problems. With so many aspects to keep in mind, having excellent visualization skills and fierce mental strength are essential. Kwanah, who rarely crashes, had two crashes at this competition but he chalks it up to nerves. He sees it as a good learning experience and is determined not to make the same mistakes again.
Now at home during the off-season, which lasts from October to April, Kwanah is back at school. The length of a downhill biking career can extend until one is 35 years old. As Kwanah is only 18, he doesn’t know if he’ll compete until that age.
Whenever he does decide to leave competition, he would like to be able to get a job as a coach or a representative of some aspect of the sport.
For now, though, he’s doing what he does best and what he loves to do, which hasn’t always been easy. Kwanah says that when he was younger and told people he was going to be a champion mountain biker, people were always discouraging him, telling him it wasn’t possible. So he stopped talking about it and kept at it. Now he’s not only the Quebec Champion, but he’s also the Canadian champion and is busy taking on the rest of the world. He’s thankful for his parents’ mental and moral support, and the support of all his sponsors. Kwanah doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. He says it’s important to have a goal in life, to do what you have to do to achieve it, and be the best you can be at all times, the rest will follow. Words from the wise, when walking, just walk; when sitting, just sit; above all, don’t wobble.