With her astonishing comeback in Olympic mountain biking, Catharine Pendrel went beyond medal territory to capture the hearts of her community, an accomplishment that showed when she arrived at Kamloops Airport Tuesday.
“I think that was the most exciting thought after having a medal, was getting to bring it back home,” she said to applause after an enthusiastic greeting by about 100 fans and supporters of all ages in the airport terminal. She said the local support she received after the race, through social media, was overwhelming.
Children lined up with flags and banners — one marked “#kamloopspride” — and the crowd cheered to give the hometown Olympian a warm reception on what will be a brief return to Kamloops. She climbs back on a plane next week for Europe to compete in mountain biking’s World Cup.
“She stuck with it,” said Derek Buemann, 12. “She fell and kept going, and it paid off.”
Pendrel said, after the first lap in Saturday’s race in Rio, she thought it was going to be her last as an Olympian. The early moments, then the final minute, didn’t go her way with a broken gear and a tumble.
“On the final lap, I just knew I just had to give it everything I had,” she said. “I actually gained 20 seconds on Emily, and then I crashed in the final minute and I couldn’t believe it.”
Still she managed to fight her way through the pack to take her place on the podium.
How did it feel when the race was over and a medal was assured?
“Just relief and joy and feeling everything that was happening in that moment.”
Pendrel, 35, made it clear that the Rio triumph was but another feather in her cap and it’s full speed ahead with her racing career.
“It’s four years out and it’s really hard to say how you’re going to feel in a year,” she said. “It’s a long time and I need to see how I feel with that. Obviously there’s family and you may want to have kids, but I think it’s too early to tell at this point.”
She complimented her Brazilian hosts, countering some of the perceptions of the Games as trouble-prone and poorly executed. She called the difficulties “little hiccups.”
“Overall, those can happen at any Games. I think they did a great job.”
Mayor Peter Milobar was there as well to present the bronze medal winner with a big bouquet, joined by several City councillors and local athletes. Milobar said he was watching Saturday’s race, thinking that Pendrel wouldn’t be able to pull it off, when he had to leave to attend Overlanders Day. He was surprised to find later that she’d won bronze.
“To overcome what she had to overcome, to move through the pack of world-class athletes — not just people like you and me — was amazing.”