Preparing a squad of eight junior downhill athletes for a 2000 kilometer trip across Australia is daunting at best. Preparing to have their parents along for the ride certainly doesn’t make it any easier either! Suffice to say the trip to Queensland for the 2017 Oceania Championships in Toowoomba and the Australian National Championships in Canungra was a turbulent yet extremely fruitful ride.
Now, I need to clear the air before we go too far. In the same paragraph above, my ill sense of humor has taken pot shots at the parents and mentioned a “turbulent” trip! As a coach I could not be more pleased with the way the group managed traveling as a team, as individual athletes and as seven separate families. I have always said that the community vibe around downhillers is second to no other sport on earth. There is something about a sport where riders hurl themselves down gnarly, steep tracks as fast as they can to beat the clock that seems to generate a very supporting community of families; who would have thought!
The trip got interesting when, after a successful Oceania Championships race in Toowoomba, we arrived at our Mt Tamborine accommodation ready to walk the Australian National Championship course in Canungra. A phone call to dampen spirits, more than the inch of rain that Wednesday, was to tell us that the Downhill competition had been cancelled. What does a squad of eight downhill riders do to pick up moral I hear you ask? Cartwheels of course!
Although racing was cancelled, the boys did a phenomenal job of staying focused and taking advantage of the opportunity to train in the surrounding areas whilst also incorporating some downtime to enjoy the non-racing side of the trip. It’s no easy task to remain focused when such a curveball is thrown at you but hats off to the squad for getting on top of it.
The contrast of Toowoomba’s racing on the previous weekend had the squad battling a long, fast and dusty course. With range of goals among the athletes, the prevailing achievement in my eyes was the full squad of able bodied and un-injured riders boarding the bus after finals! All too often I see young, inexperienced athletes return from Nationals in a sling, cast or on crutches simply from an inability to set and stick to SMART goals. From small goals we can progress, from crutches… not so much.
As the South Australian State Series approaches, we look forward to ticking more boxes and slowly but surely building to return to the 2018 National race schedule!