Veteran cyclist embraces role of a mentor

Veteran cyclist embraces role of a mentor
As a kid, Bell just wanted to get to the Games and, though it wasn’t something he focused on, didn’t think he would ever be there with a realistic chance to be a medal contender. Photo: Adam and Kev Photography.

Zach Bell, a 29-year-old Whitehorse native and track cyclist living in British Columbia, competed in the men’s omnium at the London Olympic Games, placing tenth overall. He is looking to gain experience as a coach and thoroughly enjoyed his role of team mentor in London. Bell and his wife Rebecca are expecting their first child in the fall, and Bell admits his priorities are very different now that he has a family.

Northern Journal: What was your personal sporting experience at the London Olympics?

Zach Bell: It was a challenge being a favourite and being the only one on my team who had already been to the Olympics other than the coaches, of course. I really enjoyed the opportunity to be able to work with the younger athletes and share some of their success. Just getting them ready, letting them know what to expect – that was invigorating for me.

NJ: Were your expectations different because you had already competed in Beijing in 2008?

ZB: This has obviously been a pretty emotional time after an underperformance, but that’s sport and something all of us have to deal with at one point or another. I’ve done well in this sport and I don’t think this one detracts from all the positives.

I want people to know that with the kind of moral support and backing I’ve had since coming home, I’m willing to give it another shot. I’ve gotten so many messages from people and hopefully someone will get excited about what I want to do. I think that some of the funding I’ve had access to could go to younger athletes if I could find something more privately and I think I’m at that level where that could happen.

NJ: Are you planning to compete in Rio?

ZB: Nothing is decided. I think a lot of that will come down to finding the right support to continue. In Beijing, it was one thing, it was just a push to qualify and get the job done, and I was at that age where I could be really selfish and reckless. In London, my wife was really supportive and there was an agreement that we would do this for four years and then have another discussion. She made a lot of sacrifices and, as you move along in your career, it becomes more and more about balancing it with your real life.

NJ: How has coming from the North affected how you approach your sport?

ZB: It sounds funny to say, but for Northern athletes, once you get to this level, we’re almost more experienced and equipped to deal with challenges because of the Arctic Winter Games. As a kid I would never have been able to make a team in a bigger city, just because I wasn’t big enough. The opportunities in sport in the North in smaller communities seem to be much more developed than in other small communities across Canada. You can let the hard work get you to the level without getting discouraged, whereas in places like Ontario you almost have to have an ingrained talent to be able to enter a sport and have any success. I think it’s an important tool for young kids for personal development and doing the things you want to do.

NJ: How are you involved with the next generation in cycling?

ZB: I’m involved, but it’s not specific. I coach a few athletes for a friend who has a coaching company, but it’s helping me develop some skills as well for when I maybe end up coaching someone at the highest level. In terms of mentoring, I work closely with Cycling BC and Sport Yukon just to try and be as available as possible for the next generation. I’m quite available to the kids on the national team, but I try to work with some of the younger kids too in BC, as well as in the Yukon whenever I’m back.

NJ: Do you think about the legacy you’re leaving for young athletes from the North?

ZB: Continuously. I have two sets of goals in my career. There are my sporting goals, which are primarily selfish, and then my other big goal is just to make sure that sport does what it’s intended to do. In any country, sport is an important nation-builder and it builds the community and the resolve of people. I think it starts with young people. I got into sport because of another Olympian and it changed my life. It has given me the ability to change the lives of other kids and that, in turn, is changing the direction of communities across the North.

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