Tauranga cyclist Deb Paine winning the gruelling K1 road race from Tairua to Coromandel on a borrowed bike last weekend will come as no surprise to those who know how this determined young woman can overcome the worst of misfortune.

In her sporting career so far she's broken a finger playing rugby, had surgery for a bone cyst on her toe when she was a competitive runner, crashed in a cycling race and then had her bike wrecked by airline staff.

The 21-year-old has been riding competitively for just under two years and spent time racing in Europe this year.

When it came time to fly home she packed up her $10,000 hi-spec racing machine into a bike bag, loaded it on to an American Airlines flight from Amsterdam through to Auckland and expected to uplift it, unharmed, at Auckland Airport.

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"It had fragile stickers all over it, but it must have been loaded at the bottom of the pile," she says ruefully.

"When I went to pick it up it was a mess."

The expensive bike was unusable and written off. But the proceeds from the insurance payout, after the excess was deducted and sponsors were paid back, was just a little over $2000, nowhere near enough for a replacement.

That means she started the New Zealand season borrowing a bike from her boyfriend, bike mechanic Steffan Fuller.

"It was one size too big, we had to put the seat down and use a shorter stem," she reflects.

But then overcoming adversity in her sporting career is something Deb Paine is used to.

Paine was a diminutive halfback for Bay of Plenty representative rugby teams during her time at Otumoetai College.

Then she broke the little finger of her right hand in two places during a game so took up running waiting for it to heal.

That led to a National Secondary Schools road race title in 2014, her final year at school, and a place in the New Zealand under 21 cross-country team at the Australian championships where she was the first New Zealander home.

Tauranga's Deborah Paine is a skilled and natural athlete. Photo / George Novak
Tauranga's Deborah Paine is a skilled and natural athlete. Photo / George Novak

But her burgeoning athletics career was brought to an abrupt end by a bone cyst on her big toe. She had to have surgery in her first year at Massey University.

That meant finding yet another sport. She took to cycling like rubber to the road late in 2016.

"I found my feet straight away," she remembers.

Within six months Paine was second in the 2017 Le Race from Christchurch to Akaroa, five seconds behind winner Sharlotte Lucas, but well ahead of New Zealand Commonwealth Games road rider Kate McIlroy.

Then in the 2017 K1, she won her age group and finished second overall.

Earlier this year she was second in the under 23 race at the Road Race Nationals in Hawke's Bay which gave her the confidence to race in America and Europe.

While things went well in the US, there was another significant setback when she crossed the Atlantic.

Racing for the Isorex team in the BeNe Ladies Tour in Belgium, Paine had, in her words, "a pretty big crash".

Her pelvis was knocked out of place, she suffered road rash and hurt her elbow.

She was on crutches before flying home and reckons she is "now just coming right, really".

The K1 last Saturday was her first proper race since the crash, but now she's trying to figure out the best way forward.

While she's working part-time at Health Quarters, a gym and café in Willow St and jokes that their power smoothies helped her win the K1, she knows she needs sponsorship and a job on an overseas pro team if she's to fulfill her potential.

Paine's catch phrase is "just gotta keep smiling".

After all the setbacks she's endured so far, it takes a special kind of attitude to adhere to that.