By LOGAN CLOW
Rilee Letendre admits there’s plenty of mixed emotions ahead of her Western Chuckwagon Association debut this season.
The local Grande Prairie driver is the only female driver on the WPCA and WCA circuits this season.
“I know that women have come a long way, but when you talk to people they’re surprised when they hear that I’m driving chuckwagons, which is totally fine… It is kind of cool to me that I am the first female, but to me, I’m just another driver,” said Letendre, ahead of her debut at the Grande Prairie Stompede, May 31-June 4 at Evergreen Park.
“The fact that I’m the first female is great for the sport because it gives more exposure, but I haven’t really been focusing on that. I’ve just been focusing on my training and stuff. People seem to be excited to see a female in the sport, which is amazing.
“Right now I have a lot of mixed emotions, whereas before it was one emotion and it was just getting ready for the season. Now that it’s getting closer, all that excitement, nervousness, unpredictability all comes into play. But, for the most part, I’m excited and confident.”
Letendre grew up in Drayton Valley but has lived in the Grande Prairie area for several years.
She grew up around chuckwagons. Her uncles Bruce McAleney and Brian Lewis are former WCA drivers.
Last season, she drove chariots on the WCA circuit. A few weeks after the season ended, she decided it was time to make it was time to make the transition.
Over the last few weeks, she set up shop at fellow WCA driver Lane Kimble’s place to train her horses. In recent days, she’s also been able to get a few runs in on the Gordon Badger Stadium track at Evergreen Park ahead of the Stompede.
“I think this whole process – the spring training for me this year – has been all about learning about my horses because they’re all new to me,” she said, adding it’s been “humbling” with all the support she’s received from fellow chuckwagon drivers and the community.
“It’s a lot to think about all the time. There’s a lot of different variables that go into it like who should you hook where, what you should feed them, how you should train, what’s the right call, and then you have all this other stuff. It’s my first year so I have to organize my liner and organize my wagon and get all the kinks worked out. It definitely has it challenges, but to me the reward is worth it.”
Letendre said her horses are ready to hit the track Wednesday night.
She’ll be in the first WCA heat on barrel three racing against Lane Kimble and Todd McCracken.
“They’re all conditioned. They’re in great shape. I’m really happy with the horsepower I have. It’s just like a basketball team and you just have to figure out the best combo is in putting players together, so that’s where I’m at right now,” she said.
Letendre will be driving under the JDA Oilfield Hauling tarp in her debut.
After the Stompede, the WCA chucks return to GP June 15-18 for Guitars and Wagons.
There are eight stops on the circuit this season.
“Obviously, I want to win, I want to run clean, I want to run well. But, I just try to not set too many expectations. I want to set goals, but not necessarily any expectations, and just go with the flow and just focus on getting around the track clean and safe. Whatever transpires after that is just another benefit,” she said.