I fell in love with bike riding again after a very long absence from the sport. I started riding and racing bikes when I was very young, and travelled Australia and the world competing in BMX when the sport itself was very new. I was considered ‘high potential’ and raced competitively until my late teens. As I got older, I found the pressure to keep winning at an elite level was too much, and I quit the sport angry with myself and vowing to never ride a bike again. I've always enjoyed sports with an element of adrenalin and I spent a lot of years following competing horses in eventing and show jumping, and dabbling in motocross.
When I had my son in 2008 I gave up the motorbikes and was at a bit of a sporting crossroads. After whinging one too many times about my lack of motivation, I was given a brand new Merida commuter bike by my step-grandfather Ron, with a stern ‘kick up the butt’ to get over myself and get back on a bike. Ron and I were very close and I will be forever grateful to him for encouraging me to get back on a bike after 15 years.
I then decided to try road cycling, which I hated, and BMX again, which I struggled to reconnect with. My coach mentioned that he thought I would enjoy downhill mountain bike riding, and suggested I check out the You Yangs. I immediately bought a full DH rig (being completely clueless!) and found myself on some black diamond runs on the Stockyards side of the park about a week later.
My ability to handle a bike definitely helped in those early days, and I was immediately hooked on mountain biking. From my first ride, I loved the views from the You Yangs over Westernport bay; the trees and granite rock walls; and the solitude I needed to reconnect with a sport that I had fallen out with so personally.
Not long after, I entered my first competition (still being clueless, I rode that full DH bike in a gravity enduro competition!) where I finished a resounding last! I then decided to get some bike advice, and purchased a gravity enduro bike. I also started to get some decent coaching from awesome people like Ben Watkins from Alpine Gravity. My riding improved dramatically and I started to win and place – my biggest achievement has been first place at Mt Buller in the last round of the Gravity Enduro series. What’s been personally rewarding is the ability to compete and win on my own terms, which has enabled me to let go of a lot of my old riding demons and truly love riding again. I still have a lot to learn though, and my next challenge is to complete as many rounds as I can in both the Alpine Gravity Enduro Tour and the Victorian Downhill MTB series. My dream is to ride the Megavalanche in France.
While the competitions are fun, they aren’t the only reason I ride. I love the challenge of a long climb and the reward of a fast and flowy descent. I’ve loved reconnecting with a sport that was such a huge part of my life, and realising that at 40, and as a mum, I can do a hell of a lot more than I thought I would be able to – from jumping gaps and navigating drops, to hitting huge speeds and keeping up with the boys. I love that my son, now 7, thinks it’s ‘so cool’ (he has been known to steal my gear!) and that age is absolutely no barrier to riding downhill. My only regret is that I didn’t discover mountain biking 10 years ago!
I wasn’t fit in any sense when I started riding but it came very quickly. The more I rode, the fitter I became, and after struggling with fitness post-baby, it suddenly became easy. I looked forward to being able to ride for longer without fatiguing. Downhill might not involve a lot of pedalling but it can be tough on the muscles and as with most sports, requires strong core balance and flexibility, and I appreciate being able to ride uphill so much more now.
After a year of riding, I’m now an ambassador for Bikes Direct Hoppers Crossing, riding amazing Trek bikes. It’s so exciting to be recognised for something I love, and I’m grateful to Bikes Direct for the opportunity. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the amazing people I have met along the way. The DH and Gravity MTB community is, without doubt, the most inclusive sporting community I have ever been involved in. It doesn’t matter what bike you ride, or what you're wearing, or what your ability level is – people respect the fact you're out giving the sport a go, and will offer their time, advice, and spare tubes and allen keys willingly and freely. In just on a year, I include some of the people I have met as my best mates. While the gravity side of the sport is mainly made up of guys, they are all incredibly supportive and are genuinely happy to see women giving the sport a go as well.
Personally, I would love to see more women riding the ‘gravity’ side of the sport. There is a perception you need to be young, fearless and fit to ride DH mountain biking – and perhaps if you want to compete on the World Cup circuit, that’s true. I’m 40 and can only see myself getting better at this sport over the next 5 years. I’ve ridden some of the gnarliest tracks in Victoria and come out the other side with a massive smile and amazing sense of achievement. Yes, I’ve fallen, but I ride within my limits and I wear appropriate gear.
The fantastic thing about mountain biking is that it is truly a sport for everyone!
Don’t worry about age, fitness, gear, gender, ability – all these things are irrelevant when you’re out riding, enjoying some amazing scenery, and challenging yourself!