Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

BMX: The real Sarah Walker

There’s more to Sarah Walker than riding bikes and eating lamb — like forestry work and interior design.
New Zealand's top BMXer Sarah Walker is philosophical as she eyes Rio. Photo / ALAN GIBSON
New Zealand's top BMXer Sarah Walker is philosophical as she eyes Rio. Photo / ALAN GIBSON

Olympic BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker is in the casualty department again, her Olympic hopes threatened by more broken bones. She's still a chance for Rio, though, and before her training accident in Cambridge she chatted to the Herald on Sunday about life on and off the track.

You study ...

Interior design, on and off. I designed and built a house next to the Cambridge track. I like the Scandinavian look - raw materials, wood, concrete, that kind of look. It will probably be my career choice after BMX. I love drawing the floor plans, enjoy the idea of making homes more energy efficient. I like nice art work to pop off the walls. I own three pieces by Dick Frizzell. I'm designing a house to build and project manage in Cambridge after the Olympics.

Your favourite opponent ...

My best friend is [Olympic bronze medallist] Laura Mulders from the Netherlands. She was struggling to qualify for the London Olympics, yet I thought she was a natural on the bike.

I told her I thought she was an amazing rider and there were a few things she could try, stuff I'd learned from my sports psychologist. The friendship started from there. She actually beat me in the first heat at the Olympics and I thought, 'damn, I helped her way too much'.

Your aims include becoming an Olympic athletes' representative.

I love everything the Olympics stand for. It's not just about the athletes competing for medals, it's about inspiring people to be the best versions of themselves.

Did you also have to work in the early days of your BMX career?

I did a lot of fundraising with my family. We did forestry work, motocross marshalling, raffles, etc. Outside of that, I did other sports or school work.

Life in Cambridge is ...

Awesome. The best thing for BMX is having a training base in Cambridge and access to the high performance guys. I moved here six years ago to be around all the rowers, to experience the dedication to their sport. It is such a lovely town to live in ... inspirational. Everyone is active. You see people like Mahe Drysdale, Eric Murray, Hamish Bond, Sarah Ulmer and Rob Waddell in the supermarket. Cambridge is the hub of high performance sport.

Favourite movie?

Heaps. I really enjoy comedies. It depends on my mood, though. I like movies which make you think, like the Stephen Hawking film The Theory of Everything. I also like sitting down and blobbing, watching Will Ferrell.

Favourite book?

Unleashing Greatness, by my sports psychologist David Galbraith. He's also worked with people like the Chiefs rugby team and Lisa Carrington. He's helped me become a lot more self-aware, about BMX and life itself. Besides that ... Harry Potter. It first came out when I was in my early teens, and it was nice to read that spark of imagination. The magic is cool.

Passionate, yet not obsessed, sums up Walker's approach to BMX. Photo / ALAN GIBSON
Passionate, yet not obsessed, sums up Walker's approach to BMX. Photo / ALAN GIBSON

If you weren't an Olympian?

Before I chose BMX, I had the opportunity to trial for the New Zealand volleyball team. I might have ended up in the States on a scholarship. My dad [Graham] has been a volleyball coach for longer than I've been alive. I joined in a few sessions with his Trident High School team from Whakatane when I was injured last year - I went to the North Island Champs as his assistant and they ended up winning the competition. I passed on skills learned from my sports psychologist - concentrating on the process, not the outcome. A lot of people struggle with that concept, that it's not about winning all the time.

Are you superstitious?

In BMX, you get superstitious if you have new gear. New helmets, bike jerseys need to be dropped on the ground or rubbed in the dirt so they've had their first crash. For a period of two or three weeks, I turned up to every session in something new and every day I stayed on the bike, so I kicked that one in the butt. Also, the worst thing you can say in BMX is "just off to do one more". It's crazy the amount of times someone says that and crashes. I think there is a reason. The person is already backing off, is not completely in the moment. Instead, I say, "this is the final ride", to let everyone know I have the mindset of being in a final.

Are you worried about the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil?

It is the hot topic at the moment. There is enough time for people to work out the precautions. There is no point worrying about a virus which might or might not be around in seven months. I concentrate on things I can control.

You suffered a terrible concussion, among other injuries, in the 2014 crash in California. What has it taught you?

The coolest part now is I train harder than I ever have. The pain of training is nothing compared to that injury.

Your best advice is?

The most useful, I think, is to set a goal that is scary. Deliberately set targets sometimes in which you will probably fail. Failing is an important part of success. I failed five times in the gym yesterday. Maybe I could have done it but, until you fail, you don't know where that point is. It's scary to fail for some people, but I've learned to accept that it's fine.

After scoring Olympic silver in London, are you driven by a need to win gold?

It is really exciting to see where my form is but a medal isn't my driver. I set out to win gold in London but I was so proud of myself. Silver was absolutely amazing and I rode the best race I possibly could. I appreciate every single day of training since London. I have come to realise a medal is just a symbol of the whole journey. Rio is just a point in time, to test how fast I am going.

- Herald on Sunday

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