A young champion BMX rider from Coquitlam is the inspiration for a new children’s book its author hopes will raise $10,000 for BC Children’s Hospital.
Unfortunately, that’s the very hospital where 12-year-old Jack Cerney has had to put the brakes to his cycling aspirations for a time while he gets better from leukemia.
Lindsay Reiling, whose son, Nolan, often competes with Jack at races across North America, said news of the young racer’s diagnosis last January hit close to home. Her older brother died of the same diagnosis when he was just 19 years old. She went for a walk near her home in Sherwood Park, Alta. and by the time she got home, thoughts and words spilled from her heart and onto her computer keyboard.
“I knew I wanted to say something to him, I didn’t know if it would be a message or an email,” Reiling said. “I was in the writing groove.”
In just 30 minutes, her message became a manuscript called The Race that she subsequently showed to her husband who suggested she get it published and direct any money it earned to Jack’s family.
Reiling, a former elementary school teacher, said she had no idea how to publish a book. But she did know her story needed pictures. She hit the website FIVERR that connects people with projects to creative freelancers and found an illustrator in Serbia who had just the style she knew the book needed to ring true with competitive BMXers.
A children’s book editor from Germany also offered her services for free.
“It just all came together,” Reiling said of the project that took about six weeks to complete from the day she went for her walk. “It was like it was meant to be.”
The only missing component was the blessing of Jack and his family.
Bolt from the blue
Frank Cerney said his son’s illness was like a bolt from the blue.
Jack first discovered BMX racing watching a YouTube video when he was four-and-a-half. A short while later they were at a track in Pitt Meadows, his 14-inch Trek kids bike piled into the back of the car.
Frank said Jack refused to get out of the car that first visit. They went home. But the next day he asked to go again.
“He never really looked back,” Frank Cerney said.
Jack started competing seriously at age six, racing at provincial and national events. Two years later, he reached the semi-finals in his age group at the world championships in North Carolina, then finished second at the U.S. Grands in Oklahoma.
“He just loved it,” Cerney said. “He made friends easily because the kids had things in common.”
In 2019, Jack finished second in his age group at the world championships in Belgium. His success brought him sponsorship from Yess BMX, a bike manufacturer.
But more importantly, Cerney said, it brought his shy, reserved son a community where he felt comfortable.
“Its home away from home,” he said of the competitive circuit the family travelled every summer. “You meet people at a race, you catch up, the kids do their thing then ride together between races.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down racing last year, it was the social aspect Jack missed most, Cerney said. A lot of the kids started mountain biking just to stay active.
It was on one such mountain biking adventure it became apparent Jack wasn’t himself.
Cerney said his son had been feeling tired and irritable through much of the 2020 Christmas season. On the way to a family skiing outing at Sasquatch, Jack slept in the car the whole way.
The family thought he was just turning into a sullen pre-teen.
But when Jack couldn’t muster the energy for a two-hour trail ride with his friends, his mom booked an online consultation with their family doctor who ordered blood tests. He told them the results would likely be known a few days later.
He called late that same night; the news was not good.
Reiling said she didn’t want her book to focus on Jack’s illness.
Rather, she said she crafted the story in a way she hopes will empower him and other young people going through a tough time.
“When kids are sick or in a hospital situation, they don’t have a lot of control over anything,” she said. “I wanted to send a message to him that he could have some control in the mind-body connection.”
'A good thing'
Frank Cerney said the family’s been pretty private about Jack’s illness as they focus on hospital visits and getting him better. So when Reiling reached out about her book, he left the decision in his son’s hands.
Jack mulled it over for a few weeks.
The family discussed expanding the book’s reach so it could help other kids at BC Children’s Hospital battling leukemia. That turned out to be the tipping point, Cerney said.
“If the money would help other kids going through what he’s going through, he thought it would be a good thing.”
Hot new release
Reiling said as soon as she hit the publish button on the self-publishing company’s website, The Race shot to the top of Amazon’s hot new releases of children’s books about diseases. The response from the BMX community has been overwhelming. She appeared on the Coffee Chatter podcast run by Coquitlam Olympian Tory Nyhaug, who also contributed the forward to the book.
Frank Cerney said Jack’s social media channels have blown up with messages of support since the book was released.
He’s even finding the energy to get back on his bike occasionally, including a recent trip up to Whistler.
“Jack doesn’t want to be sick,” he said. “He just wants to ride his bike and hang out with his friends.”