Cindy Devine became a world mountain-biking champion by accident. But her love of the outdoors is no mistake.
In high school, Cindy preferred team sports, basketball and volleyball, in particular.
A similar group of girls at Garibaldi secondary in the 1970s played both sports, under the same coach, Steve Rodgeman. Cindy was one of them, and said the girls grew to be a family.
Her own family had too many personal struggles to support one another.
Cindy — born in Maracaibo, Venezuela to an Icelandic mother and a Canadian father — went to elementary school in North Vancouver, riding her Mustang bike wherever she needed to go. She didn’t play sports then, other than track and field. Her family did nothing “sporty” together.
Then her parents separated. Afterwards, her mother tried to return to her homeland, taking Cindy and her older sister to the Faroe Islands, part of the Kingdom of Denmark.
Cindy’s father remained in Canada and bought a 10-acre parcel of land in Ruskin, where he started building a log home. Cindy and her sister begged their father to bring them “home.”
He sent tickets.
The family reunited in Ruskin, Maple Ridge just before September 1972, when Cindy started Grade 8 at Garibaldi.
The family lived in a large Airstream Trailer, which was not ideal for a family of four.
Within a year Cindy’s dad — working full-time for BCTel and spending all other free time on the property — moved them into an unfinished log house, in which they lived for the remainder of her high school years.
In high school, Cindy took part in track and field, cross country running, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, basketball, volleyball and tennis.
“I was happy to try anything and then stay with what let me ‘move’ as much as I could,” she said. “That is why baseball or softball never got my interest — too much standing around.”
Movement let her escape any troubles.
In track, she did running events and hurdles. She liked running trails, but preferred team sports.
“I loved team sports, the connection with partners, the flow of the game, the load of responsibility on the group as a whole, the concept and joy of teamwork.”
She had no interest in individual competitive sport, yet.
“Basketball and volleyball pretty much had the same team members for me and these girls and our coach, Mr. Rodgeman, were a family,” Cindy said.
“We got to spend the whole winter months together and this deep personal connection and purpose kept me sane, helped me feel normal. I believe it helped me feel that I mattered.”
In her senior year, 1977, Cindy competed for the B.C. high school basketball championship against Lake Cowichan and Dawn Coe Jones, who would go on to be inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of fame.
Cindy still rode her bike. At 14, she would pedal 80 kilometres every Saturday on a 10-speed from her Ruskin house to the Vancouver beaches.
But she found mountain-biking by accident.
“I was always a road riding fan and had started cycle touring in university with other faculty of rehab medicine classmates,” she said.
Her first road tour was Prince Rupert to Vancouver. Then she cycled across Canada after completing her last rehab medicine practicum in St. John’s, N.L. in 1981 — sleeping in church cemeteries and consuming only shredded wheat and skim milk.
By 1984, she was touring the Hawaiian Islands, Fuji, Cook Islands and New Zealand.
She was supposed to continue on to Australia, but fell in love with New Zealand and stayed for three years.
She worked part-time in physiotherapy there and got permanent residency. It was there, in summer 1986 while living in Queenstown, someone showed her a mountain bike. She discovered off-road, single-track riding, in nature, with no cars.
“Riding beside Lake Wakatipu on an old wagon road was heaven for me and I was sold on cycling on dirt.”
She returned to Canada in 1987, to say goodbye to family and friends as she was moving to New Zealand. While back in B.C., she visited Whistler, and met a handsome young man who interested her enough to stay a while longer.
“In order to get to know him more, I had to learn to mountain bike, as that was what he and his group did.”
They were the original B.C. mountain-bikers from the Deep Cove Bike shop.
She rode a Rocky Mountain Element, with bull moose bars and 28/38/48 chain rings, with 26 as the smallest on the back.
“Pretty much pushed your bikes up steep hills back then.”
She rode most every day that summer, and went to races on weekends, to watch her friends.
Then they signed her up for some beginner races, which she won. Then she won more. She got bumped up to the sport division.
She won a B.C. championship in 1988, at age 28, and afterwards was sponsored by Rocky Mountain bicycles, which covered her travel expenses to start going to NORBA races in the U.S .
That same year, her second in competitive racing, she earned bronze in both the downhill and dual slalom events at Mammoth Lakes, Calf., which at that time was the most thriving mountain bike scene in the world.
The following year, she won gold in downtown and bronze in slalom at the unofficial world mountain bike championships.
The world championships became an official UCI sanctioned race in 1990. Cindy won the downhill event, becoming the first female world champion in mountain biking.
By 1992, she had captured one gold and two bronze in downhill at the worlds, as well as three Kamikaze Downhill titles, three Canadian downhill national titles and won the “Desert to Sea” 150 mile race, from Palm Springs to San Diego.
All that in three years.
She raced for eight years in all, while working enough as a physical therapist to keep her license.
She said her parents, born in the 1920s, thought mountain biking was “silly.” Sport and recreation were not part of their upbringing, but other elements contributed to Cindy’s success.
“I inherited good genes from my parents,” she said.
Determination, commitment, courage came from her dad., a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot in the Second World War who was stationed in Reykjavik, Iceland.
She learned the love and knack of languages from her mother, who spoke four of them, as well as a respect for culture, animal welfare, and acceptance of others.
They never attended one of her sporting events in high school.
“So I am so grateful there were surrogate parents for me there at the games to cheer.”
Cindy retired from racing in 1994 as five-time undefeated Canadian national downhill champion. In 2003, she was inducted into the World Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.
She continues to stay involved in mountain biking as an instructor during the summer months.
She still rides, on- and off-road, as well as wind and kite surfs, in Oregon or Texas, and enjoys a “true” Kootenay winter in Rossland, alpine skiing and slack hill touring off Red Resort, or skate skiing on the nordic trails.
Cindy Devine will be honoured as a Hometown Hero at the Meadowridge Rotary annual sports banquet in Sept. 27.
Each year, the Meadowridge Sports Heroes Society recognizes athletes who were students in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadow school district, competed in local sports and advanced to the international level in their chosen field.
The non-profit society was established by Rotarians in 2006 and has since inducted 41 athletes.
Past honorees include Debbie Brill, Cam Neely, Larry Walker Jr., Brendan Morrison, Greg Moore, Kim Eagles, Leslie McPherson, Karina Leblanc, Kelley Law, Andrew Ladd, Amber Allen, Kevin Mitchell, Nathan Stein, Brad Hunt, Brandon Yip and Victor Bartley. Last year, Ross Clarkson and Larissa Franklin were added.