Maddox Johnson and Layla Rella

This winter, our daughter joined the Fernie Freestyle club and we were so impressed with her coach, Coach Brian. Like myself at that age (for real!) she shied away from competition and never considered herself an athlete. From day one, Brian referred to them all as athletes. After an entire winter of hearing this positive reinforcement, we saw such a wonderful shift in her.  

There is something to be said about a good coach, a great program, supportive parents, and all or some of these things leading to a positive experience when it comes to sports. Growing up, we had impressive athletes among us - the Emily Brydons and the Gregg Blackwells. But they seemed like the anomaly. Now, raising a family here I am continuously awed by the opportunities our youth have, and the amazing individuals behind them. Not surprisingly, the number of young athletes in our community seems higher than ever, and I wanted to learn more about just what got them to where they are today by asking them a few questions. This month, we have Maddox Johnson who is a competitive mountain biker and swimmer, and Layla Rella who is an impressive gymnast and swimmer.

Maddox Johnson, 17 years old

1. What drew you to these sports?
I have always been really active, and I grew up in a very sports-driven family. This gave me a really easy avenue into sports. I wanted to be able to keep up with my parents and friends, so I was always going the extra mile to go fast. 

2. When and why did you decide to compete?
I started competing for the school run and track teams, Fernie Alpine Ski Team, and the local soccer teams as soon as I was eligible. I only started to get serious about my competitions when I joined the Elk Valley Dolphins Swim Club. I was able to train as hard as I wanted under the amazing supervision of coach Aidan Chudleigh. I have always loved biking, and I had done the odd local race, but when Carter Neiuwesteeg approached us that he wanted to start coaching it really sparked my growing passion for cycling. I have been training with Coach Carter since 2020.

3. What events are you competing in this summer?
I am looking forward to the rest of the BC and Alberta provincial cross-country circuits. I have the Wasa triathlon coming up soon. I had so much fun at the Fernie Gravel Grind last year, so I am super excited to race it again. To go along with the Gravel Grind, I have a few local races I might compete in, like the Tuesday Toonie Races, and some races in the Crowsnest Pass. I will also be racing part of the national cross-country circuit. 

4. What do you love about competing and being able to train in Fernie?
I am so grateful to live in Fernie. We have such great teams, coaches, people, organizations, and volunteers supporting some amazing events. There is an almost endless amount of terrain in and around this beautiful town to explore and train on. Participating in these events allows me to meet really talented people and create even more cool opportunities. I am really thankful for the support of the local shops in my sports endeavours.


Layla Rella, 10 years old

1. What drew you to sports?
They’re fun! Watching Simone Biles and Penny Oleksiak compete in the Olympics really drew me to gymnastics and swimming. And my friends and family helped introduce me to so many other awesome sports.

2. When and why did you decide to compete?
I started to compete in swimming and gymnastics two to three years ago. I decided to compete in gymnastics because my friends were doing it, and in swimming because some of the older kids that I looked up to were having so much fun! I really love cheering on my friends, travelling to new places, and meeting new friends… and it’s also been awesome to win some medals!

3. What events are you competing in this spring/summer?
I competed in my home swimming and gymnastics events this spring - with crowds again! We’re also going to Radium for an outdoor event soon and then to the United States for another one in Missoula! And the most important swim race is against my Nono at Christina Lake this summer, lol.

4. What do you love about competing and being able to train in Fernie?
We have the best coaches in the world! They help make competing in sports so fun. It’s also the best to have my school friends as my sports friends too. Fernie is so nice to train in because I can always see the mountains, there’s so many different sports we get to play, and so many amazing, supportive people here.

Are you or do you know a young athlete who wants to share their story with us? Email!