catharine pendrel olympic bronze medal
Catharine Pendrel won Bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. (Rick Adams)

In Conversation with Olympic Medalist Catharine Pendrel

She's a two-time world mountain bike champion, five-time Canadian champion, CLIF Bar ambassador—and just won bronze at the Rio Olympics. 

Special Report by Simon Vaughan

One of Canada’s medalists in the 2016 Rio Olympics was mountain-biking sensation Catharine Pendrel, originally of Harvey Station, New Brunswick. A fixture on the Canadian national team since 2004, Pendrel is a two-time World Mountain Bike Champion, has no fewer than 11 World Cup wins, was twice World Cup Champion, five times Canadian National Champion, and was the 2008 Pan American Champion. She competed in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, and won Gold at both the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, and Silver at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games. 

Although Pendrel learned to ride horses as a toddler, it was only when she was 16 years old that she traded four legs for two wheels when she inherited her older brother’s hand-me-down mountain bike. Within two weeks she had competed in her first competition and fallen in love with the sport.

“I went to the race and [met] all these people who were going to be playing outside all weekend,” she explains. “They were camping and they were travelling all around the province, and it just seemed like a big adventure with really great people.”

Do It Yourself: Cycling Across Nova Scotia

She soon became addicted, learned how to combine training, competition, schooling and her personal life, and 18 years later has now competed all over the world. This year alone will see her race in Germany, Andorra, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy, the U.S. and of course, Canada.

Pendrel is also a member of the LUNA Pro Team and an ambassador for Clif Bar, the California-based company renowned for its energy bars—including the LUNA bar—and organic products. The relationship is an easy synthesis as the CLIF Bar itself was practically born on a bike. Company founder Gary Erickson is an avid cyclist who would disappear for hours at a time to pedal into the sunset and beyond. After one particularly long day of cycling, the baker and former mountain guide couldn’t bear the sight of yet another energy bar and returned home determined to develop his own. With the help of family and friends and old-fashioned trial and error, Erickson developed CLIF—named for his father, Clifford—and has never looked back.

catharine pendrel canadian olympic team
Ms. Pendrel's leg muscles are more impressive than yours. (Dave McElwaine)

Today, Clif Bar is one of the largest and most respected companies of its type in the world. Not only is it dedicated to nourishing people but is also committed to helping the community and the environment by sourcing organic and sustainable ingredients. The Canadian-made CLIF Organic Trail Mix Bar is one of its first 100-percent organic products and bears the Canada Organic seal, while its CLIF Kid Organic Zbar has been crafted for kids and is based on California legislation that limits sugar, fat, fructose and artificial flavours—even as it retains taste. Not only is it a hit with kids but it’s also one of Pendrel’s favourites: “It’s super tasty and easy to keep in the stomach before a big race!”

For Pendrel, being associated with CLIF Bar is more than just about having their name on her shirt.

“It made me so proud to have them as my sponsor because I just really like the things the company does that put an emphasis on their values,” she says. “They give work time for all their employees to volunteer for the charity of their choice. I was totally unaware of all the work they did for breast cancer, the Breast Cancer Fund and breast cancer prevention. How money from every LUNA bar goes to the Breast Cancer Fund; that there’s not just the LUNA Pro Team but there’s the LUNA Ambassador Teams, which are composed of women whose sole objectives are to get women out being active and to raise money for the Breast Cancer Fund. There’s so many elements to that program you could be unaware of when you just see the race program.”

Her Bronze-medal finish this past summer was a close call against her teammate and frequent friendly rival, Emily Batty—who actually beat her for Gold in 2015's Pan Am Games. It’s a safe bet that Pendrel was calling on CLIF Bar for some portable nutrition!

Since the company’s inception, Clif Bar’s desire has been to inspire people to get out, enjoy the world, test themselves and to feed their adventure, whatever that adventure might be. Whether a family camping weekend, some gruelling extended backcountry hiking or Gary Erickson’s particular favourite, cycling. And while the company has grown enormously since its modest debut at a 1991 bike show, the connection with cycling has never been stronger since her win in Brazil. 


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