Kwanah Sioui Moar, a Huron-Cree from Wendake, Quebec, has been taking the world of downhill mountain biking by storm. Nicknamed “The Arrow,” for the speed and accuracy with which he attacks the demanding race courses, the 17 year-old phenom has been turning heads with his uncanny and seemingly natural ability to tame mountains and defy the laws of gravity.
The youngest of three brothers, Kwanah began competing at age 15 after entering a race at Mont Tremblant for fun and winning by a comfortable margin of nine seconds. He went on to win all of his races that year except for one in which his chain fell off and he finished third. Kwanah was the Quebec Champion in the Cadet class in 1999, winning the Quebec Cup in the same year. In 2000, he was promoted by the Canadian Cycling Association and competed at the Junior Expert (17-18) level even though he was still Cadet age. After being noticed by older competitors and coaches involved in the sport. The Arrow was the only Quebec downhill biker invited to participate in the Sports-Studies program in Bromont.
The word on the Arrow, not just from proud parents Carole and Andrew, is that he is blessed not only with a rare talent, but with a positive attitude. Born in Quebec City, Kwanah grew up in Waswanipi, Val d’Or, St. Adolphe D’Howard, and Wendake. He hunted, when he was younger, with his late grandfather in the Chibougamau area and still hunts with his uncles when he’s not racing. He is said to have started riding a bike at about the same time he started walking. Having just returned to Quebec from racing in British Columbia, Kwanah took time out from his busy schedule to talk to The Nation.
The Nation: What did it feel like the very first time you tried downhill mountain biking?
Kwanah: Well, pretty much my whole life I’ve been into biking. First I started off doing cross-country endurance, but I didn’t really like going up hills. A year after that my dad bought me a downhill bike and I was immediately in love with it and I knew this was the sport for me. The first time I tried it I was really happy doing it. It was at Mont Ste. Anne on the world cup course. My friend who brought me had been doing downhill for a few years and he said that for my first run I had amazing talent. He helped me to get into the sport.
What made you try downhill?
I started doing cross-country, but I had problems because I’m not very good going up hills. When it came to downhill I was passing everybody and I knew I was good at technical riding and at high speed and I had good control of my bike.
They call you “The Arrow,” how did you get that nickname?
A guy saw me in a training run and said that I was like an arrow going down the hill.
Do you think that this is what you’re meant to do?
That’s exactly the feeling I had the first time I rode downhill.
What is the hardest part of riding downhill?
The races, the stress, the people…trying always to be perfect everytime you race. I guess pretty much everything.
What do you worry about most before tackling a course?
I worry about not crashing and having a perfect run, going as fast as possible and winning.
What do you think gives you an edge?
I guess it would be my balance. I control my bike very well. I’m always in control.
Do you ever feel that it’s getting away from you?
Sometimes. I get a bit scared, but I usually have lots of control over my bike.
How do you prepare for a race?
For the season I try to train a lot…intervals, sprints, to get into better shape so I can go 100 percent. The day before a race I eat a lot of pasta and things to supply my muscles with energy.
I try to get to sleep as early as possible to get really energetic for the next day. In the training I walk the course, check all the lines possible, try them, I usually do five or six runs a day. Some of them I walk back to try technical sections that I didn’t have down before.
What about on race day?
On race day I think the course over in my head. I check the lines in my head. I think about the speed I need to go through the curves. The morning of a race you only get one training run.
What do you think about at the top of the hill before you do a run?
I think about the course and where I’ve had problems on the run before. I visualize the course, every rock, every root, every turn.
I understand that you’ve had some health issues to deal with throughout your life.
When I was young I was often sick, but my mom took care of me. She gave me good food and always tried to give me the vitamins I needed and that helped me alot. Then when I started training that helped me to get over my asthma. Alot of training and good food. I still get sick sometimes, but it’s not as bad as before.
What other sports have you been involved in?
I did skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey…I’m pretty much a multi-sport guy.
You’re a bit of a speed demon, aren’t you?
Ya, I love it. I love the competition too.
What’s the fastest speed you hit on a downhill run?
On the course at Mont Ste. Anne I can hit almost 95 km/h. The course I was at last weekend, at Kamloops, I could get maybe 80 km/h, in the woods …technical…pretty fast.
How would you describe the typical course? Are they open ski runs, or do they tend to be gladed trails?
It’s always on tight technical trails. It’s very rare that you’ll get an open fast section.
What plays a bigger factor, technique or speed?
It’s a bit of both. To keep your speed you need to be good technically, to make sure you don’t crash. If you just go fast and you have no technique you’ll just crash and get hurt. It takes discipline too.
What kind of bike does it take to do downhill?
To race at a high level you need a very special bike. Full suspension, disk brakes, great tires. You need a durable frame. You need body protection as well.
What does a bike like that cost?
To compete at the national level you need a bike that costs $7,000 – $8,000.
Who tunes your bike?
I tune my own bike. After every downhill day and before the races I need to bleed the brakes, adjust the gears, check the tires.
Do you see a future in downhill mountain biking, both as a sport and for yourself?
I see a future for me on the downhill circuit… maybe World Cup, but definitely Canadian Cup. I’m already turning in good times as a Senior Elite (division) and top ten sometimes,but I still have a few years to go before I’m there. As for the sport, alot of people love the sport. Alot of people like the adrenaline rush and the speed.
Will it ever be an Olympic sport?
People are pushing for it. There are alot of women doing the sport and there is pressure on the Olympic committee to accept it.
What is the best part of mountain biking?
The best part is the freedom. I love the sport and I love the speed.
What’s the worst part?
The worst part, well the biggest challenge is to be perfect at every race. If you miss your line you can blow the whole race.
Have you ever been hurt in a crash?
Not yet. I’ve sometimes crashed pretty hard and I was hurt for maybe a week, but I never broke any bones. Cuts, bruises, but never a big injury.
Is crashing an unavoidable aspect of the sport?
For some people I guess it is, but me…I really don’t like crashing. I’ve heard of some riders getting thrown off their bikes and running into trees.
What about the fear factor?
Fear is pretty much everything when it comes to winning or losing. Some people have no fear, but they crash. The fear is control for the bike.
Do you have a bigger fear of crashing, or of not. winning?
For me it’s a bigger fear of not winning.
What motivates you?
I love to win and I hate to lose. Every time I lose I want to come back stronger for the next race. I want to be one of the best in the world.
What is your training schedule like?
I train 12 months a year. After the season I cool down and train only three times a week, not hard, but after that I go back to hard training – endurance, sprinting – maybe five or six days a week, three hours a day.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope I’m on the World Cup (circuit) with a big team. I hope to be a role model for young people.
Any advice for young people who want to get into competitive riding?
You need to be motivated and disciplined. No drugs, no alcohol. You need to follow your dreams.
Kwanah wanted to thank his sponsors: Balfa Cycles, Premontex, the Wendake Band Council, and Record cycles. Upcoming races in Quebec include a World Cup and Quebec Cup event at Mont Ste. Anne, August 24-26, and the Quebec Cup Final at Bromont, September 2-3. With an annual operating budget estimated at over $85,000, sponsorship is always a concern for Kwanah. Any interested parties should contact The Native Trail / La Piste Amérindien, (www.autochtones.com) (telephone contact: Bernard Cleary 418-842-3282)