Teen rides to two golds

Dave Dawson, Special to The Packet & Times

Soren Meeuwisse proudly wears the two gold medals she won recently at the Ontario Summer Games. The Orillia teen is an accomplished mountain biker who would love to represent Canada some day at the Olympics. (DAVE DAWSON, Special to The Packet & Times)

Soren Meeuwisse proudly wears the two gold medals she won recently at the Ontario Summer Games. The Orillia teen is an accomplished mountain biker who would love to represent Canada some day at the Olympics. (DAVE DAWSON, Special to The Packet & Times)

Gold goes well with pearls. Just ask Soren Meeuwisse.

The Orillia teen just returned from the Canada Summer Games, where she won a pair of gold medals in two mountain-biking events. And, as is her custom, Meeuwisse raced her mountain bike up harrowing hills and against her toughest competitors while wearing a pearl necklace — a tribute to renowned Canadian cyclist Emily Batty.

“You’ll notice in all the pictures of me from competition I’m wearing pearls,” Meeuwisse said with a smile. “Emily Batty, who just competed in the Olympics — she lives near Hardwood Hills and is part of the Hardwood/Trek Store team with me. Years ago, she cycled with a group of girls called Girls in Pearls… and she’s been wearing pearls ever since.”

Meeuwisse would love to follow in the footsteps of Batty, a seven-time Canadian champion and three-time World Cup champ. And while she’s just 14, the Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute student is showing signs she might do just that.

At the Ontario Summer Games at Albion Hills in Bolton, Meeuwisse dominated the course that featured a mix of smooth, fast single-track, some technical descents, berms and jumps. She competed in both the time trial and cross-country events.

In the time trial, Meeuwisse dominated the 4.7-kilometre course, clocking a time of 13.08 to win the gold in the women’s event. In the cross-country event, Meeuwisse pulled away from a tightly packed group in the second lap to win the U16 division.

“I was not expecting such high results because I hadn’t really trained in a month while I was away at camp,” said Meeuwisse. “I like the course. It wasn’t too hilly; it was a very fast course, which is good for me.”

“I went to the Summer Games really relaxed, didn’t have high expectations… so it feels good to win two gold medals,” said the lanky teen.

That feeling is one Meeuwisse has experienced a lot. This weekend, she will wrap up her mountain-biking season with the final Ontario Cup race of the summer. Heading into the final event, Meeuwisse has a chance to win the overall title with a strong showing.

“The Ontario Cup series starts in May and there are seven events,” she explained. “They take your best five results… but for me, I missed two races. I’m not exactly sure of the points standings, but I think if I win the last race, I can finish tied for first. It would mean a lot to me because I work hard all the time.”

Naturally, she’s hoping for a first-place finish. She does not like to lose and admits to being very competitive. It’s a trait that has driven her to such great heights in a demanding sport.

“Results: That’s what drives me,” Meeuwisse said. “I like to win.”

And while winning at the Summer Games and the Ontario Cup is meaningful, the highlight of her stellar season came earlier in Quebec. After winning a Canada Cup race at Mont Tremblant, she wasn’t able to finish a second race before heading into the national championships in Saint-Felicien, Que.

“I finished second at the nationals and I was the youngest competitor in my age group,” Meeuwisse said. “It was a very difficult, hilly course, but I just really had a strong race overall. To finish second in all of Canada… that was definitely the highlight of my season. That felt amazing.”

When she’s attacking a hill or intent on overtaking a rival, Meeuwisse is driven by a relentless desire to succeed. But the fuel behind that drive is a natural ability and a work ethic that matches her aspirations.

“I train six days a week and an average day for me is about (90 minutes) on my bike,” said Meeuwisse. “My coach, Kevin Simms, emails me a training program for every day as part of our Team Hardwood/Trek Store training.”

Many assume mountain biking would be a natural for Meeuwisse. After all, her father, Glenn, has been affiliated with the region’s premier mountain-biking facility — at Hardwood Hills — for years.

“When I was little, he used to drag me kicking and screaming to the Wednesday night races,” Meeuwisse recalled. “I didn’t really like it at first. But I remember at (Couchiching Heights Public School), all my friends had a favourite sport and I didn’t. I tried a lot of sports, but it took me a while to realize that it was mountain biking. I just love it.”

She also excels at cross-country skiing, cross-country running and track and field. Last year, in Grade 9, she was the Georgian Bay champ in cross-country running and won the city cross-country ski championship in Grade 8.

With Hardwood hosting the next national mountain-biking championship and the Pan-American Games in 2015, Meeuwisse is focused on her training and has one eye on the future.

“It’s definitely a dream to go to the Olympics and I would love to do that, but I am not just focused on sports,” she said. “I’m also pretty focused on school and have a good average and that’s really important to me as well.”

In fact, she’s pondering a career in medicine; her mother is a doctor.

“I’m just trying to stay balanced and not put too much pressure on myself,” she said.

Not bad for someone who won’t turn 15 until next week.

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