Stevie Smith

Paris Gore Photography

Steve Smith
Born: November 25, 1989 (Cassidy, British Columbia)
Died: May 10, 2016 (Nanaimo, British Columbia)

Stevie Smith was Canada’s greatest downhill mountain bike racer, a fierce competitor whose fearless descent of mountain trails earned him global recognition in a burgeoning sport.

Early in his professional career, a commentator dubbed him the Canadian Chainsaw Massacre for his hellbent style. The rider, an amiable presence on the circuit who was known for a crooked-tooth smile, eagerly adopted the moniker, often shortened to Chainsaw.

Mr. Smith has died at 26 following an off-road motorcycle crash on an old logging road near his home on Vancouver Island. According to Canadian Cyclist magazine, he collided with another motorcycle rider and both injured men were later discovered by mountain bikers, Mr. Smith suffered severe head injuries and died in hospital four days later on May 10.

In 2013, Mr. Smith became the first Canadian to win a World Cup championship in what is known as gravity racing. Injuries, including a broken ankle, hampered his performance for two years. He was on a comeback this season as lead rider for the Quebec-based Devinci Global Racing team.

“Stevie was a fierce competitor, an honest friend and a rider who made me proud on countless occasions,” Devinci team manager Gabe Fox said in a statement announcing the death.

Mr. Smith opened the 2016 campaign on April 10 with a podium finish in a race at Lourdes, France, which has a two-kilometre track with a vertical drop of 477 metres in which riders reach a top speed of 63 kilometres per hour. Mr. Smith finished 2.5 seconds behind defending champion Aaron Gwin of California.

What would be Mr. Smith’s final race was a fourth-place finish at Cairns, Australia, on April 21 on the tour’s second race of the season.

Downhill is an unnerving, bone-rattling discipline requiring strength, concentration, and the ability to make split-second tactical decisions on rough terrain in good weather and bad. It also demands a fearlessness flirting with recklessness.

Mr. Smith learned to ride on the unforgiving mountain trails ofVancouver Island, where exposed tree roots and mossy rocks are more common than grassy berms.

“I like riding anything that is full of rocks and roots,” he once said, “the gnarlier the better.”

Born on Nov. 25, 1989, in Cassidy, B.C., a former coal-mining town south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Mr. Smith was raised by a struggling single mother. Family lore has it that he got his first bicycle at age five — a second-hand Free Agent BMX — after his grandmother offered to bake a dozen apple pies for the shop owner in exchange for the wheels.

The boy eventually tired of racing on groomed BMX trails, trying dirt jumping, cross-country, and motorbike racing before becoming a force in downhill.

He first gained public notoriety as a 15-year-old when the British Columbia-based biking and filming group known as The Collective included the youth in their 2004 film, “Seasons.” The spectacularly-shot action documentary follows seven elite racers through a year of racing. The director Darcy Wittenburg decided to include the precocious teenager after he finished 21st against an elite field in the infamous Mount 7 Psychosis race at Golden, B.C. The teenager is shown being driven up a mountain for practice runs after school in a beater car by his mother.

His favourite run was a steep trail known as Patchworks on Mount Prevost outside Duncan, B.C. It took his mother 12 minutes to return by car to the bottom of the mountain. In time, the lad could finish the run in about half the time it took his mother to drive.

His ambition, he said at the time, was “not having to work. Just ride my bike as a job. Makes me want to push harder.”

He has hold interviewers his only real job was at a local Tim Hortons donut shop, where an unhappy encounter with a demanding customer led to his being removed from customer service.

He claimed his first national title as a junior in 2005 and was soon after dominating national competitions.

In 2013, he won the final three of six races on the World Cup circuit — at Mont-Saint-Anne, Quebec; Hafjell, Norway; and, Leogang, Austria — to claim the UCI (Union Cycliste International) World Cup championship in a narrow margin over Gee Atherton of Salisbury, England. As he streaked across the finish line in the final race, Mr. Smith spun his bicycle in the air before discarding it to pump both fists in the air.

At the world championship race later that year at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Mr. Smith crashed in the first corner before finishing 63rd among 68 competitors.
In 2010, Mr. Smith thrilled a hometown crowd — and announced his arrival in the sport — by finishing second in the world championship race in slick conditions at Mont-Sainte-Anne. He had suffered a separated shoulder in practice earlier in the week. The racer finished third in the world championship race in 2012 at Leogang.

“I’ve had silver and bronze,” Mr. Smith said after that race, “so hopefully the next one will be gold.”

He leaves his girlfriend, Caily Schenkeveld, as well as his mother, Tianna Smith, and a sister, Kara Harrington. He also is survived by his grandmother Judi, who baked pies in exchange for his first bike. A celebration of life will be held May 21 at the Vancouver Island Convention Centre in Nanaimo.

The day after his death, a legacy fund was launched to assist young athletes. The fund reached its goal of $25,000 in a single day thanks to contributions by more than 200 donors.

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