Where Sunday was a day of relaxing for most, it was the end of an era in deep Errington as the Hammerfest Downhill’s oldest rider blasted down the windy, rocky course with bumps and jumps that can eat you up in a hurry, one last time.
“Eighteen years … I’ve never missed one,” he chuckled from the bottom of the hill that has taken so much of his skin over the years, and Bill Mandryk, 48, or ‘Wild Bill’ as he was known back in his racing days, well, didn’t look so wild.
“He has ridden every Hammerfest DH,” race co-founder Kebble Sheaff confirmed prior to the start of the Island’s oldest downhill race.
“No one. No way,” Sheaff said when asked if anyone else has raced the Hammer that many years. “I bet no one’s even done 10 — he’s doubled everybody pretty much. To be a downhill racer for 18 years, just that alone is ridiculous,” he laughed. “I mean when you look at who’s in this race, it’s mostly 20-30 year olds and most of them are leaning a lot closer to 20 than 30 — it’s a young guys sport; there’s hard crashes … and it’s not like he’s coming in 50th out of 50 guys, he’s in the top 10 every year.”
To put it in perspective, Sheaff pointed out there were riders on the hill Sunday “that weren’t even born yet” when Mandryk raced the inaugural Hammerfest DH back in 1995.
Mandyrk was the oldest rider on the course Sunday by eight years. Billy finished 26th out of the field of 40 Expert Men that included two 17-year-olds, with a run of three minutes 35 seconds, and he was all smiles at the finish line.
Long a fixture on the roads around these parts — Bill’s bike is his primary mode of transportation — Mandryk is a former Canadian National team member that represented the red and white in Australia on the World Cup DH circuit.
“That was a big deal when he went (in 1998) — it was crazy that he made the team, and crazy that a local rider was going to Australia to race downhill on the World Cup circuit,” said Sheaff, and agreed that while news of another local competing at a high level in mountain bike racing isn’t exactly groundbreaking these days, Mandryk was indeed a trailblazer in that regard.
“I’m enjoying the other side now, the cross country kind of side,” Mandryk surmised after his traditional second and last practice run. “You know, when you get that age you just want something safer,” he said easily, and those that know him know he’s earned the right to retire from the Hammer.
Wild Bill never won the Hammerfest DH, though he did come close a few times, and rain or shine, he always, always attacked the course.
“I’m calling it the Run for my Son,” Bill said Sunday of his Hammerfest swan song. His son Justin died unexpectedly April 30.
Asked if it made for a different feeling on the day, and Bill paused for second collect himself, and nodded yes.
“Way more emotional.”