While most mountain bikers were sound asleep the night before the Canada Summer Games cross-country race, Karlee Gendron was awake, vomiting and in pain.
The Winnipeg cyclist still isn't quite sure what it was, maybe food poisoning or a stomach bug, but it kept her up all of Friday night. She couldn't keep anything down until Saturday morning -- race day -- when she managed a half a bowl of Corn Pops cereal. For awhile, around 4:30 a.m., she wondered if she'd even be able to compete.
'Then I woke up a couple of hours later and I wasn't feeling great, but I knew that I could definitely race'
"I was so sick, it was definitely a concern," Gendron said on Tuesday from Sherbrooke, Que., where the Games are in full bloom. "Then I woke up a couple of hours later and I wasn't feeling great, but I knew that I could definitely race. At that point my goal was to be competitive and be in the mix, but the podium was a little far fetched."
Hours later, she was standing on that podium with a bronze medal around her neck.
The battle that began in that sleepless bed ended on a course sloppy with mud and pounded by rain. It was a short course though, about 15 minutes quicker than the standard, and Gendron, 21, thrives in bad weather. Maybe it's because she started off as a long-track speed skater, she mused: all that training outside in the Manitoba winters, in the wind and the snow and the ice.
At any rate, she attacked the course on her bike, hunting for a little revenge after a bad crash knocked her out of the pack in national competition a few weeks back, and she kept it close. A hot start put her in fourth position, she passed the third-place cyclist on a climb, and then chased down the leaders ahead while warding off challengers behind. "It was a pretty good battle," Gendron said. "I was super excited about how I did."
With that third-place finish, Gendron claimed the first medal for Team Manitoba -- they had nine in total by Tuesday evening, including three for Winnipeg swimmer Breanne Siwicki and a bronze for Special Olympics 50-metre breaststroke swimmer Sam Currie.
Two days later, she had to battle again. With cyclist Hanna Boersma sidelined from the Games by a concussion, Gendron and teammate Anna Schappert agreed that Gendron would race two legs of the women's cross-country relay. "I was actually really excited," Gendron said. "I thought it was in our favour that I had to do two laps, because I had done really well on the course a couple of days before. We had a great feeling going into the race."
The relay was a barn-burner too, and fans along the course cheered as Gendron traded the lead with Quebec's Fred Trudel, who won gold at the solo race. Trudel passed Gendron on every climb, but Gendron sped past on each descent, and it all came down to an uphill gravel sprint, a thrilling finish and, for the Manitoban duo, a shiny silver medal.
It was the kind of thrill that makes all the training worth it. Gendron, who grew up in Whyte Ridge, trains in the mountains of California in the winter and travels with a Toronto-based pro mountain bike team in the summer and fall. This year, she's signed up to study human ecology and nutritional sciences online at the University of Manitoba, and she still squeezes in time to work as well.
She's not done yet, either. Today, Gendron will begin the elimination rounds for the mountain bike sprint. After that event wraps up she's off to Mont Ste. Anne's, Que., for a World Cup mountain bike race, before returning to Sherbrooke next week to gun for more medals in three road cycling events. "There's lots of racing left to do," Gendron said. "I'll be very exhausted, but it'll be worth it, and such a great experience."