NANAIMO — The racers standing on the podium were far from the only winners when an international race series stopped in Nanaimo.
During an intermission at Saturday's Red Bull Pump Track World Championship race event in Nanaimo, 30 disadvantaged local children were presented with brand new custom bikes, locks and helmets thanks to a partnership with the Stevie Smith Legacy Foundation and Pinkbike.
Owners of the new bikes were chosen by the Foundation and the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre. The majority of the children are elementary school aged and live in the NAC's Sanala (formerly King Arthur Court) housing complex in Harewood.
NAC tenant support worker Jenn Aubichon said the gift hit home.
"Some of these kids struggle. Their families struggle. They do the best they can, they share bikes with neighbours and siblings, so for them to get their own bike, specifically made for them is important to them and they understand somebody is doing something for them."
Aubichon said she asked those children who already had a bike to "pay it forward" by leaving their old bike at the back door to her office to be given to another child without one.
"I got there the next day and there's probably 10 bikes out there. It's really cool. A lot of them understand what a big deal this is, it's very exciting."
While perhaps a little overwhelmed with professional riders handing them a bike in front of a large crowd at an international event, many of the kids were visibly excited and could not wait to check out their new rides.
It's the second straight year the Stevie Smith Legacy Foundation, created to carry on the spirit of Nanaimo's world champion downhill mountain bike racer the late Steve Smith, helped donate bikes to disadvantaged kids. Last year 26 bikes were given to children in government care.
The Foundation's Michelle Corfield said this year it was an easy choice to team up with the aboriginal centre.
"They had such an influx of children in their new facilities and there were a number of kids who needed to have a bike," Corfield said. "This is probably one of the most fulfilling things we can do with the foundation."
As for the racing, Nanaimo was well-represented on the podium.
Local Ben Leslie took top spot, with Nanaimo's Dillon Butcher coming in second. Third place went to American Nate Berkheimer and Smith's former training partner Mark Wallace grabbed fourth.
All four of the top finishers earned a spot in the pump track world championship finals in Switzerland in September. By finishing first, Leslie earned a free flight to the event.
Sixty-seven men and 14 women registered to race in the only Canadian stop on the international tour. It was the first major event hosted at Nanaimo's Stevie Smith Bike Park since it opened last August.
On Twitter: @domabassi
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