Nora Willmert learned just how powerful a pinkie promise can be.
Willmert, a 10-year-old from Cambridge, had hoped to exchange jerseys with someone she met while competing at the BMX World Championships in Belgium in late July.
“I met a girl from Great Britain named Mathilda [Leak], and we made a pinkie promise to exchange jerseys,” Willmert said. “She finished in the world top four, and afterwards I looked everywhere for her but didn’t find her. At the same times she talked to one of my coaches, and he gave her my mom’s information.
“So we texted one another and met in Amsterdam. We exchanged jerseys — we had pinkie promised — and after that we spent the day together.”
Meanwhile Avery Chartrand, a 12-year-old who lives in Isanti, made an unexpected exchange with a racer from Ireland at the same event.
“I was going to exchange with a girl from South Africa, but I found out she had left before I got there,” Chartrand said. “As I was going to her tent, a little kid from Ireland came up to me and asked if I wanted to trade. I told him I would come back and find him if I didn’t find the girl from South Africa, but he followed me everywhere.
“So I exchanged jerseys with him, and he was really excited.”
There was one problem with the jersey swap, Chartrand quickly learned: The younger boy was much smaller than she was.
“I just couldn’t tell him no,” Chartrand said, noting that the jersey is on her wall rather than in her wardrobe.
Those are just two of the memories these two local racers will take from the event, which included time spent in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg as well as the host country.
“We got to see new people, new places, new foods – everything new,” said Willmert, who will be a fifth grader at Cambridge Intermediate this fall.
Chartrand, who is entering seventh grade at Isanti Middle School, said the European trip gave everyone in her travel party plenty of opportunities to go high and go fast.
“Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is my favorite memory – but it was scary,” she said. “And I rode in a taxi for the first time. It was in Paris, and it was scary, too. There was a lot of traffic, honking and crashing. And it wasn’t a very big car.
“We rode a high-speed train from Belgium to Paris, and that was really fast, too — we were told we were going 198 miles per hour. And we were on the Autobahn, but we didn’t know we were on it until cars started zooming past us.”
Katherine Willmert said the trip was a learning experience for her daughter, Nora.
“I think she learned a lot off the track – different languages, reading menus and street signs, so many different things,” Katherine Willmert said. “I think it’s cool that BMX had helped us experience different parts of this country, and now the world. …
“We travel a lot for BMX, so we like to incorporate seeing something besides the race track at all these different places. I guess that makes Nora a well-traveled 10-year-old.”
On the track, Nora Willmert was hamstrung by a Union Cycliste Internationale rule that competitors under the age of 12 have to wear tennis shoes, or “flats,” that are not clipped onto the pedals of the bikes. In the United State competitors do not face that restriction.
“In other countries it has always been that way, and that was really hard to adjust,” she said. “I just tried to do what was comfortable.”
Despite that impediment, Willmert was able to advance to top 16 in her age group.
“I am really happy with my result,” she said. “I was last in my semifinals, but I didn’t care. I was in the world championships.”
Chartrand was not able to advance out of the first round of competition in her age group thanks to an impediment that was beyond her control.
“A girl crashed in front of me, and that caused me to unclip,” she explained. “A girl who was behind me went around me and avoided the crash – and that was the difference between moving to the next round and not advancing.
“I was sad and frustrated. But I still got to stay and watch, and I learned a lot.”
Chartrand said she learned that she needs to work on her technical racing skills.
“Different tracks have different obstacles, and that’s something I’m not used to,” she explained. “Tracks in the U.S. are more basic, and tracks in Europe are more technical.”
Still, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And both girls wanted to thank a number of supporters, as well as their factory team — Wiawis/Long Sports Group — for helping make the trip a reality.
“I want to thank my mom and dad, Katherine and Reid, and my brother Joe,” Nora Willmert said. “I thank my coach, Donavon Long, and his wife Traci, and everyone who supported me.”
Chartrand agreed, adding: “I want to thank my mom and dad, Alissa and Mark, and my coaches. And I want to thank all of my sponsors who helped me get there, including Summit Dental and Highland Money Management.”
Alissa Chartrand said the local community — both girls train at Rum River BMX in Isanti — also was supportive of their fundraising efforts.
“We did a fundraiser with the Willmerts, and we had a silent auction, and we had an event at Junction Bowl,” she said. “It was cool to see family, friends, and the whole BMX community come out and help us alleviate some of the financial burdens of this trip.”