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Local cycling pioneer still 'making tracks' (7 photos)

Oro-Medonte senior pushed for Simcoe County Museum exhibit which showcases 'important role of Hardwood, Horseshoe, Simcoe County Forest and cycling clubs'

Local championship mountain biker, Ann Budge, is considered a pioneer in the sport. Her first race was in 1987, just a few years after the sport of mountain biking became popular.

In fact, the first mass-produced mountain bike did not appear until 1981 with the Specialized brand’s Stumpjumper (a name the brand still uses today). The popularity of the sport soon began to soar, with bikes evolving from heavy “klunkers” to lightweight full-suspension trail slayers as cyclists competed in events all over the world.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Budge, you can explore the history of mountain biking right here in Simcoe County at a special exhibit called Making Tracks – Mountain Biking in Simcoe County, at the Simcoe County Museum until Sept. 5.

“Simcoe County, especially Oro-Medonte, is the hub of mountain biking in eastern Canada,” noted Budge. “With the exception of areas in Quebec,” she added. “But we have Hardwood Ski and Bike race nights, Horseshoe Resort downhill courses, the Copeland Forest, Simcoe County trails; this is really the hub. We need to showcase this.”

Indeed, the Simcoe County Mountain Bike Club (SCMBC), formed in the 1990s, is now one of the largest bike clubs in Ontario and maintains a 150-km single track trail system.

In 1993, Hardwood Hills (now Hardwood Ski and Bike) started what has become Canada’s longest running weekly mountain bike race series and both Hardwood and Horseshoe Resort are known internationally as mountain bike event venues.

These events have drawn some of the best Canadian athletes to the area and have inspired many local athletes to become provincial, national and world champions. This year, Hardwood Ski and Bike will host the 2022 Canadian MTB Championships from July 21-24.

Budge first took up mountain biking at the age of 50 after learning that her daughter and son-in-law had started riding.

“Let’s get mountain bikes and join them,” Budge announced to her husband, Don. She soon accepted a challenge from her son-in-law to enter a competition. After this first race, Budge was hooked. For the next 20 years, she participated in races in Quebec and the U.S., including downhill, uphill, cross-country courses and even on sand dunes.

“I’m basically a competitive person,” explained Budge.

An avid cross-country ski competitor, Budge came from a background of university sports at McGill University, where she competed in badminton, squash and basketball.

She recalled one of her biggest accomplishments was making Canada’s national mountain bike team in 1992.

“I wanted to make that so badly. I trained and trained and trained. I needed to qualify by accumulating points by competing in Canada Cup qualifier events. It was such a big thrill to make the team and compete at the World Championship in Bromont, Quebec.”

Budge went on to win medals at world masters events in Bromont in 1999 and 2001, as well as numerous provincial and national championships. She continued to compete in both mountain biking and cross-country ski events well into her 70s. Now, 85, she has only slowed down due to a devastating cycling accident seven years ago.

She was just finishing a bike ride in Oro-Medonte when she was struck by a school bus travelling through a stop sign. After spending 12 weeks in hospital, Budge was able to go home to continue her long rehabilitation.

“They told me that only reason I was able to go home, and not to a nursing home, was because of who I was before the accident,” said Budge.

Being so fit enabled her to become mobile and walk again. She is not able to ride a bike or ski, but she still enjoys getting out to volunteer at mountain bike races and is able to snowshoe in the winter.

“It’s so important to stay fit and healthy, especially when you’re older, because you just never know.”

Budge’s impressive mountain biking accomplishments are showcased in the Making Tracks exhibit, where visitors can even see what she calls her “crash” bike.

In the exhibit, Budge is joined by an outstanding group of local cyclists who have gained national and international attention, including Olympian Peter Disera and current mountain bike national champion, Jenn Jackson, both of Horseshoe Valley.

Making Tracks is located in the museum’s Simcoe Gallery, where exhibit ideas come from the community. Over the past few years, Budge had contacted leaders in the cycling community with her idea of a museum exhibit for mountain biking. Her persistence paid off. She got a call from the Simcoe County Museum earlier this year to say they were going ahead with her idea.

“We saw this as a perfect fit for the summer,” said Simcoe County Museum Curator Kelley Swift Jones. “There has been an explosion in the popularity of cycling, especially during COVID-19. This exhibit gives us an opportunity to showcase this part of our history and the important role of Hardwood, Horseshoe, Simcoe County Forest and cycling clubs in the area.”

“They’ve done a great job,” said Budge. “It’s an interesting, informative and fun exhibit for both cyclists and non-cyclists alike.”

To find out more about visiting the Simcoe County Museum, go to museum.simcoe.ca.