Ali Van Yzendoorn did something rare Monday – she took the day off.
“I did take the day off from school today but it was so worth it,” the smiling 19-year-old cyclist said Monday night, moments after being named Orillia’s Athlete of the Year for 2017.
Van Yzendoorn rarely takes time off from her studies or her passion: cycling. Unless there’s snow on the ground, the hard-working, driven athlete is up before the sun, pedaling her heart out on the region’s back roads as she chases her dreams.
This past year was another banner season for the Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School graduate.
At the 2017 Junior Track Cycling World Championships in Italy, she helped Team Canada finish fifth in the team pursuit. She also raced to a bronze and silver medal at the 2017 Canadian National Track Championships and was selected to represent Ontario at the 2017 Canadian Road National Championship.
While those performances were exceptional, Michael Suraci, the high-performance manager of the Ontario Cycling Association, said Van Yzendoorn is more than just a great athlete. “(She) is a role model athlete,” he wrote in a letter supporting the cyclist’s nomination as Orillia’s athlete of the year. “She leads by example, giving 100 per cent effort at every training session and always striving to improve.”
On top of that, she brings a positive approach to training and competing. “It is rare that Ali isn’t wearing a big smile on her face and creating a positive presence at every training session,” said Suraci.
Marg Schreurs, who nominated Van Yzendoorn for the prestigious award, was on hand at city hall Monday night to see her win it.
“I have known Ali since she was 13,” said Schreurs. “She is an incredible athlete who works very, very hard and is passionate about the sport. She is grateful, very humble and volunteers for all kinds of events locally.”
Despite her impressive cycling season, Van Yzendoorn, who is in the first year of a kinesiology program at the University of Waterloo, was surprised by the nomination and the win.
“It’s amazing to have won this,” she said. “I didn’t honestly think it would be a thing that would happen for me, so it’s really cool.”
She said to be recognized among a field of “amazing athletes” who all had “amazing experiences and amazing years” is humbling. It also gives her more resolve to continue working hard.
“It definitely reinforces that I’m doing the best I can and those long morning rides are paying off,” she said. “But I think I’d keep doing it because I love doing it. It reinforces that hard work is paying off … (and) definitely makes me hungry” to keep going.
Van Yzendoorn was one of six candidates nominated for the trophy donated to the city in 1952 by Norm Davis; she is the 58th winner of Orillia’s top athletic prize.
Other nominees were Ben Barzo, Kyle Heitzner, Dipinekumar Patel, Jack Marwick and Mike Montgomery.
The six “deserving candidates” were introduced by Chris Gammon, the city’s program supervisor and each received certificates
“One of the main criteria for athlete of the year is you have to be amazing,” said Gammon. “Each one of these athletes are amazing individuals. They have shown leadership, self-sacrifice and character – traits have allowed them to stand apart from their peers.”
The athlete of the year is chosen by a nine-member panel of local judges.