Claire Burchar has several titles behind her name:12 time Canadian National Downhill Team Member, World Championship Downhill Bronze Medallist, and multiple Canadian Downhill National Champion. We discuss her decision to start racing as a privateer and some of the projects she has in the works.
JJ: You have a Czech tattoo that says Sila laska a stromy (strength, love and trees) on your collar bone. Why?
CB: There are a lot of meanings behind this tattoo, so I’m afraid it is a bit of a long story! My parents are both from Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia at the time) so I grew up speaking, listening and reading this intricate and difficult language. The beautiful Czech storybooks we lost ourselves in as children were rich in history and culture and were beautifully illustrated too. Czech is a big part of my roots. As a bit of a creative, I have always admired words and how they sound and look when they are written. These three words are no exception. My mom passed away when I was 17 years old. Sila means strength. Strength to go forward and grow, the strength it took to live without my mom all these years as well as the years to come. Laska means love. Such a beautiful word to me. To live with all your heart. Openly. Stromy means trees. Yes, trees. My mom loved them and I do too. They are amazing beings and are never perfect but are perfect in every way. I will always live amongst them. It is as much a tribute to my mom as it is a reminder of how I want to live. So I got it written above my heart!
JJ: Speaking of the Czech republic, do you have any family left there? Did you visit it?
CB: I have some aunts, uncles and cousins back in Czech Republic. I have traveled there a couple of times and I am due for another visit! I have family in Spindleruv Mlyn, which is in the mountains and also in Prague, which is an incredible city. It is a beautiful country rich in nature, history, perseverance and culture and I am proud to have some roots there.
JJ: Tell me a bit how you grew up and when did you get into mountain biking?
CB: I grew up in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver. Which can also explain my love of trees. Always in the woods and mountains, playing and exploring. My dad was an elite athlete his whole life. Skiing, Moto, Cycling. I learned to ski when I was 1 and a half years old. My mom was a lover of nature and fit and strong both of body and mind. Sport and outdoors were always strong values. I followed my older brother, who I idolized, into the mountains on a bike. My ambition made me want to become the best I could be at it and caused me to never look back.
JJ: Are you doing any other sports?
CB: I grew up ski racing as my dad worked for a local ski resort. I was also a ballerina for 10 years! Not many people would believe that haha! I played forward on a soccer team for many years. Hiking and trail running are also activities I love when I’m not on my bike.
JJ: You spend half of the year in Whistler and half in Australia. Do you miss winter?
CB: I started to loathe winter a bit because it was long, cold and harder to ride my bike. But now that I am not full time racing, I am starting to enjoy it more and I was looking forward to skiing a bit last winter. But, yes, I will always make a getaway to warmer climates at some point!
JJ: You are now riding for Kovarik Racing. Why did you decide to go with your own brand?
CB: We decided to start our own brand when we wanted to do other things besides racing World Cups. We wanted to branch out and do more in the sport and have more freedom to create our own program. We started Kovarik Racing in 2011 and it has involved into what it is now. Racing, adventuring, coaching, rider development and working with key companies as brand ambassadors which involves a lot of media projects.
JJ: You also work as a graphic designer for Chromag. Do you like having an office job?
CB: I never dread going to work at Chromag. It is a bit of a creative outlet and a nice change of pace from my on-the-bike life. It is super flexible and I get to work on design projects and be a part of a colourful brand and group of people.
JJ: What was the scariest moment in your life?
CB: During times when I’ve been afraid for my life, I have remained quite calm as I’ve had no choice. Your body and mind have amazing coping strategies. So I’d say the scariest moments in my life were times when I was sorting myself out in life and struggling to stand on my own feet and pay my rent, buy food to eat. When my mom passed away, my dad and I were not a huge part of each others lives and all of a sudden my brother and I were left with a house and a mortgage. That was scary times and I’ve never felt so alone. I am now much stronger because of it!
JJ: And the happiest moment?
CB: Just too many to narrow it down to one. Animals make me happy. Nature. Friends.
JJ: A few years ago you were in horrible car accident. Did you ever think that you might not be riding again?
CB: Although I can’t, won’t and don’t want to ride exactly the same again, mostly as a result of mental factors, I am extremely lucky and grateful to say that I never had to face thinking about never riding again. When I came to after being unconscious, I was still in the car and I knew that I could die as I quickly realized that things weren’t right inside my body. I immediately scanned my legs and arms and I knew that if I survived the internal injuries, my bones would heal and I would recover. I already knew that it could have been much worse.
JJ: You did the Trans Provence race in 2015 which was 300km and 24 stages in 6 days. Have you ever done anything like this race before? And what do you think of adventure races?
CB: Trans Provence was one of the best things I have done on my bike. I needed to throw myself into the deep end of an adventure. I craved doing something on my own that would challenge everything about me physically and mentally. I had never done a race like it before. I had done some enduro racing but quite minimal, really. I am actually quite happy with how I managed. These adventure races are crazy and super tough and I learned a few things about myself. Mainly that the only times I was unhappy or frustrated(lost chain or getting lost during stages)was when I let my competitive ego get in the way. I believe that your ego can help you to accomplish great things but sometimes you just have to lock your ego in the cupboard. I am looking forward to doing a few more races of this nature.
JJ: How would you compare these races to downhill races? Which one do you prefer more?
CB: Adventure racing and DH racing are completely different concepts but equally as exciting to me. I am so glad that I can enjoy both. Although I still enjoy racing DH, I am not so serious about it anymore. I mostly do it to get amongst it, have a good time and do my best. With DH racing, it is so exciting to go against the clock when it’s one track one chance. That alone, changes the dynamic both mentally and physically. But rather than just speeding down the same tracks on the DH race circuit, I am adding more adventure racing and soul trips to my schedule now as I really just love exploring new terrain and challenging myself with so many different elements, including weather, route finding and survival.
JJ: You mentioned rider development team a few times. Could you tell us more about the team and the program?
CB: Together with Intense Cycles, Chris and I wanted to support some young up and coming racers in the sport by acting as mentors and coaches as well as being a resource for the many pieces of the puzzle when it comes to creating a career in the industry. We are still passionate about racing and it feels good to share some knowledge and continue our racing legacy even though we are not full time racers anymore. It is not a buy-in program, it is fully supported by Intense Cycles and our own time as well as by some other rad key brands: Fox Head, Chromag, Five Ten, Smith Optics, Scorpion Bike Stands and Evolution Whistler. The focus is on fun, growth and developing as athletes and good human beings. So for 2016, we have three young promising racers as well as an aspiring mountain bike film maker on our Rider Development Team, traveling to all the downhill BC Cups.
JJ: I’ve seen a new puppy around. Is it a new addition to the team?
CB: Laska is our new fur baby! Laska Moje! She is currently 1 year old, a pit bull/labrador cross and all of us can’t wait until she is old enough to hit the trails! And, of course, she is our new team mascot 🙂
Born and raised in Slovakia, Justa moved to British Columbia because of hockey. She discovered mountain biking when she photographed her first Crankworx. Today she loves to photograph the real life, life in motion. Her pictures and stories from her adventures can be seen in bike magazines around the world. Find out more at www.justajeskova.com.