Soaring sisters drawn to dirt Meet Manitoba’s adrenaline-fuelled first family of motocross

The only time a motocross race is slow is just before the start gate falls. Engines rev, a trace of gasoline wafts through the air and anxious riders prepare to tear up a dirt track.

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The only time a motocross race is slow is just before the start gate falls. Engines rev, a trace of gasoline wafts through the air and anxious riders prepare to tear up a dirt track.

It’s everyone for themselves after that, family included.

Dirt bikes come to life when throttles are twisted to the max, the riders become a blur and a 20-minute race can feel like 20 seconds. Excited spectators cheer, some just hoping the riders they support cross the finish line safely.

The sport, a closed-course motorcycle race over natural or simulated rough terrain, including steep inclines, hairpin turns, and mud — lots and lots of mud — is not for the faint of heart.

The Ferguson sisters — Ciel, Ani, Katrine and Téa — along with their parents, Marie and Travis, know the risks and rewards of motocross all too well. They’ve lived the highs of making it on the podium and soaking in a celebration. They’ve also experienced the lows of gruesome injuries.

And when the doors to the fast-paced world of motocross are pulled open, there’s a family in Grande Pointe bonded together tighter than the bolts on a bike, backed by their strong community.

“As soon as I had my first race, it was instant; you get on and — I think anyone can say that — they can just get on and the feeling of twisting the throttle is so satisfying,” says 18-year-old Ani. “It brings a different joy out of you.”

Travis is unsure if it was 2009 or 2010 but recalls scrolling through Kijiji and finding a listing for a nearby Honda CRF50 dirt bike. It was the perfect opportunity to introduce his passion to his daughters, especially with Marie on a trip with friends.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Téa (from left), Katrine, Ani, and Ciel Ferguson with their dirt bikes outside of their home.

Marie can’t remember what year Travis first brought the first CRF50 home, either. She suggests picking any time she went on a trip because another dirt bike showed up whenever she returned, which garners a grin and a giggle from Travis.

“It didn’t actually take a lot of encouragement, they were pretty drawn to it right away,” says Travis.

Ciel, Ani and Katrine race at the highest level of women’s motocross in Canada – the WMX series – along with local races. Téa, the youngest of the four sisters, isn’t far behind, mostly competing locally in the super-mini and women’s classes.

A pressure washer rumbles outside the house as Ani cleans her blue-and-white dirt bike with the number 4 on it while inside, Ciel and Marie break down their schedule from April to October.

They’ve already competed at national races this summer in Kamloops B.C., and Drumheller, Alta. There’s also a trip to Deschambault, Que., scheduled for the end of July and a stop in Walton, Ont., at the end of August.

The sisters also have races throughout Manitoba sprinkled between.

“I think that’s sometimes a little bit unique to the sport. The girls all compete together.” – Marie Ferguson

Mondays are for unpacking from weekend trips. The sisters usually practise throughout the week in Zhoda, about 35 kilometres southeast of Steinbach, before leaving for another race on Friday. Marie oversees all the non-bike prep, making sure the motorhome parked in their gravel driveway is ready to go, food is packed and gear is washed.

There is a certain amount of chaos that can — and does — occur in the small confines with only one bathroom shared between six people.

“I think that’s sometimes a little bit unique to the sport. The girls all compete together,” says Marie. “We’re together camping every single weekend.”

Motocross is an expensive sport and the prize money awarded at the races in which the Fergusons compete doesn’t offset the costs, which makes finding sponsors paramount. Dirt bikes can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000, and the sisters get a “sweet deal” from sponsors Husqvarna Canada and a store called Chudds PowerSports in Gimli.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Ani has been all-in on motocross since graduating high school in 2021 and works at Capitol Motosports when she’s not racing.

Helmets can range from $500-1,000, jerseys up to $400 and protective equipment such as neck braces, boots, moto socks and gloves can add up to over $1,000. Riders also have to account for mechanics and parts, which Marie estimated could be $2,000 a year per bike.

The Fergusons are sponsored by a Winnipeg store called Capitol Motosports and Fox Racing Canada.

Ani has been all-in on motocross since graduating high school early in 2021, working at Capitol Motosports when she’s not racing.

It’s not uncommon for customers there — some of whom she has never met before — to ask the teenager about her race weekend.

“You just have to act normal, but it’s a crazy feeling,” she says.

“Me or my sisters, we always try to be super nice and welcoming, so that they (women and girls) feel like it’s a safe space for them to be.” – Ciel Ferguson

Tears form in her eyes as Ani explains how on race days their camper is always full of people willing to lend a hand. She says Travis washes all four bikes and does maintenance on them between races, but he’s one man; sometimes as many as 10 people will come by and ask what they can do to help.

“It’s unbelievable,” she says. “Every person you talk to at the track will know us, love us even.”

The four sisters are backed by a supportive community and they’re always looking to make it a more welcoming space for women and young girls.

Ciel has aspirations of giving back to the local motocross scene. The 19-year-old is scaling back on her career a bit in pursuit of her real estate licence and hopes to one day sponsor young riders.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 'We’re together camping every single weekend,' says Marie.

She recalls a trip to Kamloops where seeing a gate full of women riders for the first time nearly brought her to tears. It also inspired her to help one day achieve the same feat in Manitoba.

“Me or my sisters, we always try to be super nice and welcoming, so that they feel like it’s a safe space for them to be,” she says.

It’s a comeback year for Ciel, who missed the 2021 season after her hand landed in the front spokes of another rider’s front wheel. The two plates, two pins, 11 screws and scars on her hand are a reminder of the risks riders face when they get on the bike.

She nearly took another spill during a race a few weeks ago, but managed to recover. An audible gasp was heard from the crowd as she clipped an obstacle and was bumped sideways before recovering. The incident caused Marie to fall to her knees crying once the race ended.

“It’s unusual that I don’t cry at a race,” she says. “Partially, I am nervous, but also, I’m so immensely proud.”

“I’m really trying to accomplish… keeping up with them and passing them.” – Téa Ferguson

But being able to block out any nerves or fear is what separates good riders from great ones.

Katrine’s not afraid to bang bars with other riders and will find a way through if they’re in her way.

Riders are allowed to pack their gate before each race, which is when they create a line in the dirt to give them a better start, almost like a launchpad. The rider that does the best in the first race gets to pick the gate for the second one, but packing can only be done at the sides or rear.

Katrine earned the opportunity to pick the first gate during an event earlier this summer. A boy she was competing against didn’t appreciate her telling him he was breaking the rules by packing at the front of his gate.

“The kid turned around and was like, ‘OK, Karen,’” she says. “Then I just yelled back and I was, like, “OK, well I’m gonna beat you anyways.’”

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Téa admits there’s some pressure to try meeting and even exceeding the accomplishments of her sisters.

She got the last laugh that day, posting higher than him at the finish.

While Ciel, Ani and Katrine have established themselves in the sport, their youngest sister Téa’s career is just getting started. The 14-year-old competed in what would be considered her first professional women’s race last month during a national event in Pilot Mound.

Téa’s resume also includes being the first female Manitoban to win a supermini race, which she achieved at Zhoda International Raceway last year.

She admits there’s some pressure to try meeting and even exceeding the accomplishments of her sisters. However, it also motivates her to work hard.

“I’m really trying to accomplish… keeping up with them and passing them,” she says. “It’s always a great feeling.”

Travis describes his youngest daughter as a silent assassin on the track and that watching Téa is like looking out at a calm ocean. It might be smooth as glass on the surface, but underneath there’s a bustling ecosystem.

“You can just see her, she’s really going for it, she’s pushing herself,” says Travis. “But then when she pulls off, she’s just kind of like, cool, focused, steady.”

The bumps, bruises and scrapes are a regular occurrence and there’s been broken bones and concussions, but motocross is what drives them closer together. It’s all fittingly summed up by a banner that reads “Home of the Brave” hanging near the front of their house.

They’re the closest thing one can find to a team in an individual sport. Winning is nice, but as long as the girls are happy with their efforts, that’s all that matters to their parents. And the Ferguson sisters always support each other.

“Obviously, we’re all super-competitive. But I’ve never come off the track and been upset with my sister because she passed me or she took me out or anything,” says Ani. “Being sisters, I love them all the time.”

But when the gate goes down and motors roar, it’s everyone for herself in 20-minute races that feel like 20 seconds. Even family.

gavin.axelrod@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: Gavin77axe

Meet the Fergusons

• Ciel, 19 — 11th in Canadian National WMX series west coast standings
• Ani, 18 — 8th in Canadian National WMX series west coast standings
• Katrine, 15 — 7th in Canadian National WMX series west coast standings
• Téa, 14 — competed in her first professional race this summer

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