Raising an olympian BMX rider

With dreams of becoming NZ’s first BMX Olympic medal winner, Sarah Walker is no ordinary biker - so what was she like growing up? We talk to her mother, Susan Walker about her daredevil daughter.

At what age did Sarah learn to ride a bike?

Sarah was only 2-years-old when she first learnt to ride a two-wheeler bike, and she the training wheels were off by the time she was 3-years-old.

What made Sarah give BMX riding a go?

Matt (Sarah’s younger brother) got a BMX bike for his birthday and rode at the Tauranga Club nights for three months before Sarah came along and decided it looked like fun and that she didn’t want to just sit around and watch.

What aspects of her personality do you think helped her to become a champion?

The desire to do her best – it has been the same with all her academic and physical challenges to date. She’s always been competitive.

Did she have lots of BMX racing lessons before she won her first competition?

She actually had very few. As a family, we all went mountain bike riding in the bush and riverside tracks around Kawerau most Sundays, so she had talent and developed skills in that time.

Once she started racing, did she practice a lot?Did you have to nag her to train?

No real nagging was needed. We would travel to Rotorua (40 minute drive away) on Monday nights for training, Wednesday nights for racing and then to a race venue somewhere in the North Island most weekends from September through to April. She enjoyed the whole aspect of our BMX journey. Kawerau has a small BMX track where after school some days, Sarah and Matt would ride to play and have fun.

Was Sarah a fussy eater?

Yes, the only vegetables she liked were broccoli and peeled potatoes. She had a big dislike of pumpkin. Her favourite foods were skinless chicken, broccoli, cheese and marmite.

What was she good at in school?

She was good at everything, both academic and physical. She loved to work and please everyone.

Did she have time for other sports/hobbies?

Yes, she did anything that came her way. She loved technology and science challenges and competitions. She learnt the saxophone (wasn’t very good at that!) and the piano up to level three. She played and was good at all sports, including netball, hockey and volleyball (and was in fact asked to play for the NZ Under 19 team). She also loved mountain biking, sea fishing and snow skiing – she gave her best to everything she did. When she initially turned professional at BMX, Sarah had to live in Australia for almost two years as that was where the coach was based. She left home during Year 13 to take on BMX and the goal of being at the 2008 Olympics. The move to Australia was hard on a 17-year-old, straight from school, but she dealt with it positively.

Is she good at other balance sports like skiing, rollerblading, ice-skating etc?

Yes, she loves them all. When she was a 1-year-old, her Dad and I would take her in a baby backpack at Mount Dobson and ski with her. You could feel her feet and body swaying with us from side to side and by the time she was 3, she had her own skis. She was a very determined athlete even then.

Was she always a daredevil adrenalin junkie?

No, but her brother would always push her that bit more. Now Sarah has to give everything a go – skydiving is on her list of “been there and done that”.

What are the qualities you think are most important to instill in your children?

Honesty, commitment, a good work ethic, respect for themselves and others, and to have a go and give it your best.

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