Without motivation and countless hours of hard work, the University of Toronto mountain bike team wouldn’t be able to train in the centre of Canada’s largest city.
Toronto and mountain bikes are two images that don’t normally connect, but the school made sure it did.
“Often I am asked ‘how can you have a mountain bike team in the centre of the city?’ The answer is the Don Valley trails, and we don’t take these for granted,” said head coach David Wright, in an interview with the Toronto Observer.
Over the past 11 years, the team has removed more than 20 tons of garbage from the forest floor of the Don Valley trails during the team’s annual cleanup event.
“The team has also worked with the City of Toronto and volunteered countless hours on sustainable trail building projects in the Don Valley,” said Wright, who has 40 student athletes under his wing.
This benefits not only them and any other mountain bikers, but also dog walkers, joggers, birders and more.
“We love the Don Valley and are happy to give back to our community that way,” he said.
In addition to its environmental efforts, the Varsity Blues mountain bike team is also recognized for its sense of community.
“Our team philosophy totally embraces the concept of community. We want student athletes to feel a part of the team and our community,” said Wright.
It’s one of the reasons why Jon Winfield enjoys racing for the university.
“The U of T mountain bike team has been a great experience for me. The team is very much a community where new members are always welcomed,” said Winfield, who has been racing in mountain bike events since age 10.
Pursuing a Bachelor of Education degree at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Winfield has been successful in his first season by respectively placing eighth, second, third and sixth at the Ontario University Cup mountain bike race series.
The University Cup races involve university and college students from all across the province in four events held at different venues in Southern Ontario.
“I am happy with my results this year, especially coming second at Boler Mountain and third at Hardwood Hills. The race last Sunday [at Ganaraska] started well, but I had a crash on one of the downhills which caused my handlebars to get twisted around,” he said to the Toronto Observer.
The native of Barrie, Ont., might not be on the team next year due to his program only being one year long, but he plans on competing for a long while.
Winfield began last summer racing in the Ontario and Canada Cups in the Pro Elite category, which is the highest level of racing in the country.
“My goal for the future is to improve my ranking in the Ontario and Canada Cup races,” he said.
Since its foundation in 1997, the team has been building a legacy, and is one of the first recognized university mountain bike squads in the province.
“These kids are on the mountain bike team today, but they will be the leaders of our community tomorrow,” Wright said.