Port Alberni teen challenges Justin Trudeau to run in local 15K race

Sixteen-year-old Mackenzie Loyer has challenged Justin Trudeau to participate in this year's Port Alberni Paper Chase. (Photo provided by Alana Brown)

A Vancouver Island teen wants to run against Justin Trudeau.

"I'm challenging the prime minister to a race in Port Alberni," said 16-year-old Mackenzie Loyer. "I know that Prime Minister Trudeau goes through Tofino a lot, and our town has been struggling, especially with the mill workers being on strike. So, I'm doing it to bring more to the town."

Loyer's hoping Trudeau will participate in the Port Alberni Paper Chase, a 15-kilometre race that is part of the Vancouver Island Race Series. Last year, she finished first in her age group in the eight-race circuit.

She reached out to the prime minister's office to issue the challenge, and has also contacted her member of Parliament, Gord Johns of the NDP.

So far, there's been no official response from Trudeau, but she's hopeful he'll agree to participate and - in doing so - put her city "on the map more."

"It's such a great place, and it's just kind of gone in the shadows and struggled," Loyer said. "There's just so many beautiful places that are not heard of."

Bill Collette, the CEO of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce, said Loyer's efforts - if successful - would likely have the sort of effect on the town that she suggests.

"It's a game-changer for everything," Collette said. "Obviously, he's the prime minister of the country. To actually have him do this would be incredible, right? It would certainly quadruple my work, because I'd have to have a completely different strategy in place, which we'd welcome. So, were she to be successful, we would just be thrilled."

Like Loyer, Collette pointed to the eight-month Western Forest Products strike that wreaked havoc on North Island communities as an example of the challenges the city has faced in the last year.

The city also faced negative publicity over the summer as the home town of teen murder suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, who were the subject of a nationwide manhunt after committing three homicides in northern B.C.

Collette said the manhunt was a difficult time for the community, but he doesn't believe it tainted the city's image.

"It doesn't define the community," he said. "The community is people like Mackenzie. That's who defines our community, and we all know that."

"She's exceptional, an exceptional young woman," Collette said. "She really is proud of Port Alberni. She wears her Port Alberni flag on her sleeve and is proud to call it home."

Loyer said she and her family moved to Port Alberni from Vancouver five years ago, and she has fallen in love with the town. She said she loves its scenic setting, its many running and hiking trails and its friendly, welcoming people.

"It's really supportive and it's really, really, really nice," she said. "It's just a really nice community with a heart."

And if the prime minister were to come join her on the course that winds its way through forest and the McLean Mill National Historic Site, she thinks he'd see that too.

Would he finish before she does, though?

"I've been training pretty hard," she said with a laugh, then addressed Trudeau directly. "So, bring it." 

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