A few years ago, Neal Kindree was sitting in his parents' basement, nursing a knee injury and wondering if he would ever return to his raison d'être, mountain biking.
Those fears seem to be buried in the past now, replaced instead by sunny optimism about a career that seems destined for mountain biking glory.
And the proof comes in the form of a shiny bronze medal Kindree won along with Marty Lazarsky in a grueling, six-day mountain biking race in Chile this January.
The Trans Andes Challenge tests mental strength and physical stamina as two contestants form a team to race through a rugged landscape of the Patagonia region of Chile.
It was the first time Neal Kindree participated in a race that stretched for six days. The first day contestants covered 62 kilometres, with more than 5,500 metres of uphill riding in temperatures that hovered around 33 degrees Celsius.
"I enjoyed it quite a lot, but for ten days after the race, I didn't do a whole lot," joked Kindree.
"I just slept for ten days."
The medal marks a big turnaround for Kindree, who has patiently waited or his injury to heal since 2008. Those 16 months, he admitted, were the most depressing of his life.
As his knee healed, he gingerly put himself to the test in 2009 at the Cheakamus Challenge and then in 2010 again, taking part and winning respectable spots in the local toonie races, the Test of Metal, and the Gear Jammer.
But winning the Cheakamus Challenge last year finally gave him the confidence to take part in big races, without worrying too much about his knee.
He proved himself right with the Trans Andes Challenge.
"I still have the limitations with my knee. It does get sore, my training program is now unconventional, but I'm willing to take the risks and enter into races this year," he said.
The Trans Andes also brought another boon to Kindree - new sponsorship.
His injury meant the end to previous sponsorship deals, although bike shops like Tantalus Bike Shop continued to support him.
Strained for sponsorships, Kindree was planning on working a part-time job in Squamish while he honed his skills, but fortunately for him those plans took a positive turn when a representative of the Montreal sportswear company called Nativo Concept noticed him.
Impressed with his performance, the company offered to sponsor him for a year, giving him the opportunity to take part in races of his choice without having to worry about the financial constraints.
"This is just great," said Kindree.
"This is my make or break opportunity. This is an opportunity that's going to be here and I have to prove that I can race well."
In 2011, he has plans to compete in a number of races including Hell of a Series, Canada Cup Circuit, National Championships, BC Bike Race Solo, and the TransRockies.
"I will also be racing the GranFondo and hopefully the World Championships but, of course, that depends on qualification events," said Kindree.
As he puts his injury behind him, he is hoping to achieve a higher level of fitness and better results in his game than the past few years.
"It's an exciting time for me and my hope is to impress myself continually throughout the year," he said.
"My next big race will be the first Canada Cup in Quebec. I hope to be on the podium."