Even national champions have to start somewhere.
And in Mia Cameron's case, it was at Taupō's Generation Homes Monster Mountain Bike Challenge, which returns again to Taupō's Craters of the Moon mountain bike park on Saturday, April 10.
Mia, 16, is the national under-19 junior women's mountain bike champion after winning the nationals at Crocodile MTB Park in Christchurch on February 27.
But the path to that podium started eight years ago when she was just a keen youngster lining up for her first mountain bike race. It was St Patrick's Catholic School's annual fundraiser, the Monster Mountain Bike Challenge.
Run by the St Patrick's Catholic School PTA in conjunction with Bike Taupō, the event is a fun, semi-competitive event for children to experience mountain biking as well as fundraise for the school.
At that first race in 2013, Mia came second, collecting the first of dozens of mountain biking medals she has accumulated over the years. The following year, she was first. She has never looked back since.
Mia says although she doesn't remember much about that first race in 2013, she continued riding and enjoying mountain biking. She began racing seriously in 2018 when she was in Year 9 at Taupō-nui-a-Tia College and came second at the national MTB championships in Wanaka in the under-15 age group.
The following year she could not enter thanks to a broken collarbone but she was back in 2020 at the MTB nationals in Dunedin where she won the U17 females and was second at the Oceania Mountain Bike Championships, also in Dunedin.
This year no Oceanias were held but Mia was first in the under-19 junior women at Crocodile MTB Park in Christchurch, making her national champion in her age group.
Mia says she enjoys winning, but it's also the excitement of racing that keeps her motivated.
"The thrill and excitement of the build-up to races and during the races, I really enjoy it and have fun. Even when the outcome's not going quite as well as I hope, I enjoy the racing part of it."
The other aspect is that Mia has made a network of friends from mountain biking around the country who she regularly sees at events. There's always time to enjoy each other's company during pre-rides, before races and while waiting for prize giving, as well as staying together or grabbing a meal after the racing is over.
"Seeing friends and hanging out with them and the whole atmosphere of racing as well, I've made good friends from it."
Besides mountain biking Mia also plays hockey and until recently also enjoyed adventure racing, although mountain biking is her main sport and the one she gets most enjoyment from.
"I do love the downhills and I love doing enduro to mix it up."
Her advice to aspiring young riders at this year's Monster MTB bike ride is simple: keep enjoying yourself.
"Don't take it too seriously. Let it take its own course and just have fun."
The Generation Homes Monster Mountain Bike Challenge is open to children aged 5 to 12 years and there is a choice of fun rides for novices, competitive age group races and elite races with a range of distances, so there is something to suit every child.
Every finisher receives a medal and age-group winners receive a trophy. There are also lots of spot prizes, including a $600 bike voucher from Top Gear Cycles.