A Comox Valley adventure prodigy looks to the future without stressing about the present.
Emilly Johnston is a force of nature on local singletrack. At only 13 years old, Johnston is quickly establishing herself as one of Vancouver Island’s hardest working and most talented cyclists, and she’s only just beginning.
CVC: What got you into riding?
Emilly: I started riding because my dad really liked riding. My first ride was a shop ride when I was 8 years old and I loved the downhill sections of the trail, and hanging out with friends and family. Our whole family rides together. My sister Brynn is 10 and she’s also getting into racing. I’ve been racing cross-country, (XC) cyclocross, enduro and some downhills now for nearly four years. We do a lot of rides as a family and each summer my mom, dad, sister and I go on riding adventures. The past couple of summers we have spent a month in Whistler riding, and this summer my mom took us to the interior on a biking and camping trip and we rode Kamloops Silverstar, Rossland and Nelson. We turn everything into a biking trip if we can.
CVC: The Comox Valley has been your home for most of your life. What do you like most about living in the valley?
Emilly: The valley is small enough that you get to know a lot of people and the riding community is so friendly. I enjoy living near trails, being in nature, and close to the ocean. Our riding is amongst the best on Vancouver Island, too. I love the trails in Cumberland and the steep terrain on Forbidden Plateau. One of my favourite trail combos is Blockhead and Numb Skull because they are fairly technical and flowy, but I don’t think I could pick a favourite trail because the are all so fun.
CVC: You’ve had a really successful season of racing. What are your results and goals for the future?
Emilly: Racing is a lot of fun. This year has been a good year. I won the Coal Town Classic XC Race (30 km Overall Title for Women,) the overall Island Cup Enduro Series (Expert), the Island Cup XC Series (Intermediate Women,) and have had some really good results at BC Cup races and with Cyclocross as well, winning several of the races in Intermediate. One of my favourite races was the 12 hours of Cumberland which I did with Team No Nuts, which was all women, and included my mentor pro athlete Mical Dyck, and Tara Miller, and Roanne English from Cumberland. We had so much fun and we won as well.
In 2016, my big races will be two Canada Cups (XC) and Sea Otter in Monterey, California. I’m also working on a 30 day wheelie challenge, as I think it will really help my skills. Eventually my goal is to race World Cups and race in the Olympics, and have a top 3 finish at a major international XC event.
CVC: How was it being selected as one of five athletes for the 2015 Ride Like a Girl Program?
Emilly: It was a lot of fun. I got to meet new people and see what other girls are doing in British Columbia who are around my age and into mountain bike racing. The program helped me a lot with promotion and some of my racing expenses. I really enjoyed being matched with pro racer Mical Dyck as my mentor. I really look up to her. She goes to a lot of cool places racing and riding, and works really hard to be the accomplished athlete that she is in XC and cyclocross, and she’s always so helpful and welcoming. She gave me a lot of good tips on nutrition and racing, told me a lot about what it’s like to race pro, and was super supportive when I saw her at the races. It was really fun to get to race with her in the 12 Hours of Cumberland.
CVC: You put a lot of effort into organizing the cross-country toonie race series last spring in Cumberland. What motivated you to do that?
Emilly: I really like racing and we didn’t have many races last May so I thought I’d organize a series, and I had a lot of help from Emilie Thy of the United Riders of Cumberland to get the races off the ground. I wanted to give back to the biking community. It was super fun to organize the events, and so many people came out to help out with volunteering and sponsorship. We had a burger BBQ afterwards too which made the evenings a lot of fun.
CVC: So how do you keep motivated and what do you do to train for racing?
Emilly: It’s easy to train because I always want to ride my bike. I ride usually five days per week, and a lot with my family and the Trail Bicycles Team. My parents take me to a lot of bike camps and events, and even when it is super wet my mom will suggest that we go for a ride. Jeff, the bike shop owner, and Tristan, our coach, really help us out a lot. They’re really supportive and encouraging, and provide the team with great support. We go to a lot of events together and it’s lot of fun.
CVC. Tell us about your ski racing.
Emilly: I’ve been skiing since I was three and ski racing since I was 5. I ski with the Mount Washington Ski Club and race slalom and giant slalom (GS). We compete all over BC and I often do training camps at Mt Hood in the summer. Skiing helps with my biking quite a bit and of course biking keeps me fit for ski racing. They are two sports that really help one another, and a few of my teammates for skiing are also on the Trail Bicycles Team. The last few years we haven’t had as much opportunity to ski race because of the lack of snow so I’ve really gotten into biking more year round. I did have some good results last season skiing though including 3rd in GS in a Coast Zone Race at Whistler and 10th in GS Provincials (U14).
CVC: When you are not hitting the hills on skis or your bike, what other activities do you like to do?
Emilly: Well, school keeps me pretty busy. I work hard to get good grades and although I really enjoy math, science, and English it takes a lot of time to do well. I play the piano, do a lot of reading, and enjoy rock climbing and hiking. This year I’m thinking about joining the school basketball team. In the future I’m interested in becoming a radiologist because I really like helping people and I think it would be pretty neat to notice injuries and issues people are having by looking close up on the computer to diagnose them.
CVC: What advice would you provide to someone just getting into racing?
Emilly: The Island Cup races are a lot of fun and a good way to try racing or if you don’t live on the island, try a fun local race like a toonie race. Stay with it, even if it’s super challenging. After the uphill there is always a downhill. Always finish a race if you can. I had an experience where I didn’t finish a race one time that I could have and I was really disappointed. It’s better to finish and work on doing better next time than to quit and be disappointed with yourself. Always try to have fun and not take things too seriously. If it’s not fun, then it isn’t really what biking is supposed to be about.