Winnipeg Free Press (July 14, 2017)
While most Manitoba athletes fine-tune their skills, techniques and teamwork here at home with the 2017 Canada Summer Games just three weeks away, Will Boersma is on a different path.
The 20-year-old cyclist from Portage la Prairie is across the pond right now with an elite Canadian squad of bike riders, and will make it to Winnipeg for the road-racing events during the second week of the Games, just in the nick of time.
Boersma will pedal hundreds of kilometres over the next few days near Valencia, Spain, with Team RaceClean — a national under-23 team competing under the banner of Cycling Canada’s anti-doping program— as it prepares for an international pursuit race in Belgium later this month.
Since the spring of 2016, he has competed around the world, including stops in Canada and the U.S., France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and China.
Not bad for a farm kid who started racing a decade ago on a course near an old garbage hill.
“We were the Portage Junk Yard Dogs — the name was really fitting. I gave mountain biking a try on this course pretty close to my house, and I really liked it a lot. Gradually, I got better and better going through the ranks, and now it’s my lifestyle.”-Team Manitoba cyclist Will Boersma
“We were the Portage Junk Yard Dogs — the name was really fitting,” Boersma says with a laugh. “I gave mountain biking a try on this course pretty close to my house, and I really liked it a lot. Gradually, I got better and better going through the ranks, and now it’s my lifestyle.
“It’s been pretty amazing. The way I progressed through the system is about as cookie-cutter as you can get. I joined the junior national team and went to the world junior championships and then moved up to the under-23 level and am now on the national team. It’s been a good progression.”
That’s the Reader’s Digest version of Boersma’s successful rise in the road-racing circuit — from cycling the roads of western Manitoba to the hilly highways of France.
His dream of biking with the world’s best, he says, actually began four years ago when he qualified to compete at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que.
“I was the youngest competitor. I was getting put in my place, so the results weren’t that great — but it was still really fun,” Boersma recalls. “The first week was mountain biking and the second week was road biking, and at the time I still did both, so I actually was there for 18 days and got to experience the opening ceremonies and the closing ceremonies. It was a long go but it was really cool experience.”
“I didn’t know when I was back in Sherbrooke and looking up at these guys and seeing them and wishing one day I could be like them. Here I am in their shoes now, and that’s a really cool feeling.”
Boersma graduated high school from the University of Winnipeg Collegiate and studied one year at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. But he’s put the brakes on school for the time being and is devoting his time and energy — and forgoing personal accolades — to help Team Race Clean excel on the world stage.
He’s the team domestique, a commonly used term in competitive cycling that basically means he does a lot of the grunt work such as grabbing water bottles, ushering riders into the wind or giving up a wheel to a teammate who’s had a puncture.
It’s a selfless role that at times goes unrecognized because, most often, the domestique does not place in any races. That person sacrifices for the star riders of the squad.
Boersma, who is fully recovered from a broken foot suffered in a nasty fall in Arras, France, in late May, says he’s always been motivated by propelling his Canadian teammates to the podium.
“I’m the guy that looks after our riders and help them try to win. I find great joy in that. That’s my passion,” he says. “Cycling is a real team sport. I haven’t had too many opportunities or have never put pressure on myself to win. I look after my teammates. They’re my best buddies and I really love helping them succeed.”
Head provincial cycling coach Jayson Gillespie says that attitude permeates through each rider on Manitoba’s cycling team.
“The big advantage we have is that these athletes have all grown up together, so they’ve had the opportunity to race together as a team before — unlike a lot of the other provinces, where the athletes are thrown together just for the Games and yet are expected to work for each other,” Gillespie says. “Ours have worked together as a team. They know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, they’re willing to sacrifice for each other so that the team will win versus an individual win.
“What it comes down to is they’re willing to lose for one another, whereas in other provinces athletes aren’t willing to do that. They’re in it for themselves.”
Boersma says a chance to ride with fellow Manitobans in such a prestigious event right at home means everything to him.
“It’s really hit home for me to support the home province. Sport Manitoba has been good to me and I want to be there. The city’s going to be so alive,” he says. “It’s a big event for me. I’m not putting pressure on myself for the Games for individual results, but I really want to help get Manitoba a couple of medals.”
Free Press assistant sports editor Jason Bell takes a weekly look at the Canada Summer Games preparations.
Read more by Jason Bell .