Two Sea to Sky athletes are among more than 350 competitors representing B.C. at the Canada Summer Games beginning Friday in Winnipeg.
Cross-country biker Julia Long of Whistler and canoeist Quinn Phare of Pemberton will head to the Manitoba capital to kick off the national event, which consists of 16 sports. The Games will run from July 28 to Aug. 13.
For Long, it'll be her first time at an event of this magnitude as an athlete, though she had the chance to soak in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in her hometown. She was thrilled to be one of 16 bikers named to the team earlier this month.
"I was looking forward to it the entire year and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it, but I'm glad that I made it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it'll be pretty cool to go," she said.
Heading to the prairies, Long acknowledged she's in for a much flatter experience at the Bison Butte Mountain Bike Course than what she's grown up with here in Whistler.
"It's definitely going to be different from here," she said. "It's very flat and there's only one hill in it, and it's only a three-minute hill. It's different from what I'm used to so it'll be quite a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it.
"I've never raced a course that's that flat, and pretty much everything is man-made. It's definitely going to be interesting to see how I do on it. I'm not quite sure yet."
Long will get three chances to test the course, first in the cross-country Olympic race on Sunday, July 30, then the relay on Tuesday, Aug. 1 and the eliminator-style sprint on Thursday, Aug. 3.
At the 2016 nationals, Long took a surprise second-place finish in the eliminator, which could lend her a bit of an edge this year.
"That's the event I'm looking forward to the most, seeing if I can pull it off again," said Long, who's hoping for a top-five finish.
Long is coming off a strong showing at the Canadian XCO MTB Championships in Canmore, Alta. on July 22 and 23, placing fifth in the junior women's expert category and teaming with Carter Woods, Nick Kleban and Geoff Kabush to take sixth in the team relay championships.
Long said she was battling a cold coming into the races, which sapped some of her endurance, but she powered through it anyway.
"It was a really fun course and I really enjoyed it," she said. "All the training from this year (paid off). I was really focusing on the course and having everything come together. I don't know exactly what I was doing specifically but on the descents I was able to really focus. A lot of girls maybe couldn't have done that."
Long and the other younger riders were thrilled to have Kabush, an Olympian and recent BC Bike Race winner, on their side to anchor the team and help bring them up in the standings.
"We were struggling because we were tired from the day before, but it was a very fun race," she said. "We only had to do one lap, so it was almost like a sprint for all of us."
Out on the water, Pemberton's Phare is set to compete in the single, two-man and four-man event and is a possibility for the war canoe team as well. The canoeing events run later in the Games from Aug. 7 to 10.
"It's extremely exciting and humbling to know that I was one of the ones that got picked and it's also nice to see hard work paid off," Phare said.
Phare, 16, will be on the younger end of the spectrum as he'll be taking on racers as old as 20 when competition begins. He's keeping that in mind when setting his goals for the Games.
"I'm pretty much racing against full-grown men so my goal is pretty much to do the best I can and try to learn from the experience," Phare said.
None of Phare's teammates are surprises, as he's gotten to know them at various other events. He's had the chance to get to know them better with a recent four-day camp in Whistler with another training session in Fort Langley coming this week.
"I've raced with them, trained with them and I already know all of them so it's been a pretty easy thing to settle into," he said.
Phare noted he also hasn't had many measuring-stick events so far this season, as there haven't been many races on the schedule, and earlier this month, one in Kamloops was cancelled because of the ongoing wildfire situation.
"The races that I've had have went pretty well, so I'm happy with the season," Phare said.
Team BC coach Blake Dalton is impressed with the 20 paddlers the province will be sending to Winnipeg in the hopes of a medal.
"I'm pleased with the composition of the team. We have several key veterans and a number of young but enthusiastic and skilled paddlers," Dalton said in a release. "It was obvious at the selection trials that each athlete wants to fight for each second. It will be a great Games!"