Excitement and nerves compete for attention in Janet Stark's Beachlands home. In two weeks, the 45-year-old mother of two will hit the start line of the Whaka 100 - a gruelling 100km mountain bike ride with more than 3500m of elevation over Rotorua's best mountain biking trails.
Stark has never ridden that distance before, nor done that much climbing, but she has determination in spades and some personal demons to face that give her a powerful reason to be there.
Growing up in Christchurch, Stark went everywhere on her tricycle - "I've been riding since I was a little girl - I rode to school on my trike, and in the weekends we would go to the trike park. As a student, my bike was my transport, and we didn't even have a car in the first five years after we got married, we just biked everywhere!"
Children arrived, and Stark's bike began gathering dust in the garage.
Then: "The children were growing up so out came my 20-year-old road bike. One day we went to Rotorua and I fell in love with the Redwoods. I had to get a mountain bike.
"I had done a bit of mountain bike riding and had some confidence so I entered the NDuro Winter Series mid-course. It was awful! I was not ready - I didn't have a clue what I was doing - it took me hours to get around.
"I only ended up doing two of the three events in the series, and I came last in both. After that I stopped racing - I lost my confidence and got really depressed for a while."
Stark decided to get back on her bike two years ago, and her confidence grew as she became proficient in racing cyclocross. The part-time office manager became a driving force behind Spokeswoman, the women's chapter of the Pohutukawa Coast Bike Club. "I discovered there are lots of women who haven't ridden in years - they are often in their 40s with growing children.
"They want to get back into cycling but they are quite nervous, so I started helping them grow their skills and confidence."
Realising she had a talent for assisting developing cyclists, Stark completed her Mountain Bike Guiding Certificate and is working towards a Bike Instructors Certificate.
She has also worked on an Auckland Council and Next Bike initiative where council bus drivers were taken out on bikes to experience a cyclist's perspective of Auckland traffic.
"They were completely shocked to see how vulnerable cyclists are when passed by cars and buses," Stark says.
Traffic is something Stark and the other riders lining up for one of the Whaka distances won't have to worry about. Tim and Belinda Farmer are excited to deliver a brand new course for this year's Whaka, as Tim says: "The event is billed as one of the toughest courses in the Southern Hemisphere ... but we don't want to put people off - the 100km is a milestone event; there are also 50km, 25km and 15km options, so Whaka is achievable for all riders.
"What I am excited about is that we are riding over Rotorua's best trails - yes, riders will be challenged mentally and physically, but they will finish with an enormous sense of accomplishment."
That sense of accomplishment is the motivation for Stark as she returns to the trails that once destroyed her.
"My biggest fear is that I won't make the cut-off," she confides. "I have been going down to Rotorua to practise - there are some sections I am confident on, and some I'm not. Belinda from NDuro has been so supportive and encouraging ... as have my husband and friends - they will be out and about in the forest cheering me on. My kids think I'm crazy but it will be a huge celebration in our house when I finish!"
Stark encourages others to try sports until they find one they really enjoy. "Start small, but have big goals," she says.
15km, 25km, 50km, 100km mountain bike and kids' rides
Saturday, October 24
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