Rotorua's Tuhoto-Ariki Pene has spent most of his life on two wheels. He started riding BMX when he was 3 and became a seven-time national champion. He started racing mountain bikes when he was 12. Now 18, Pene has been making his mark at downhill mountain biking events all over the world and is loving every minute of it. At World Cup events in Italy and Switzerland this year, he finished first and third respectively and now his attention is firmly fixated on the upcoming Mountain Biking World Championships in Canada. Sports reporter David Beck caught up with him this week.
One thing that stands out about Tuhoto-Ariki Pene when you interview him is, no matter what the question, he relates his success back to the support he receives from friends and whānau.
While he no doubt does receive fantastic support, it's an example of the sort of humility required for an athlete to go far. It has certainly worked for him this year as he has made two World Cup podiums and qualified to represent New Zealand at the Mountain Biking World Cup.
"As a junior rider, let's be real, it's much harder to be able to travel, race and afford the expenses. But because of the people that support me, it has been much easier. The easier the trip is the more it benefits me with less stress," Pene says.
"Therefore, I'm more focused on my goals. I'm not going to lie, I've slacked off every now and again, but just having that ear full from my partner, my whānau and friends - I stayed on track.
"Definitely having a good support crew wherever you race will benefit you. In this sport, everywhere I've gone I've made friends that become whānau. That is what helps me feel more comfortable being away from my home Aotearoa."
Pene is in his last year as a junior rider and is making the most of it. His first place finish at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Italy was on a course regarded by many as the hardest on the circuit.
"As I dropped in all the nerves left and my focus was dedicated to keeping my flow ... I knew it was going to be a challenge to stay on the bike. I played it safe until halfway because I thought I was going too slow and had to pick up the pace. I let go of the brakes pretty much completely. I let loose and it didn't feel like the perfect run but it was enough to take me to the top. It was my first World Cup win, and it was bloody good to hear that national anthem of ours."
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One of the hardest things about racing overseas is adjusting to new conditions.
"The conditions have been full on, from thunder storms and lots of rain, to dust. It's continuously changing but that's what you expect in a weather dependent sport, you really have to be adaptable.
"At home, rain, hail or shine it's safe as. The dirt is grippy and soft to crash on but in Europe the huge mountains are three to four times the hills we race in New Zealand."
Next month's World Championships will be Pene's last as a junior elite rider and he said he could not wait to make the most of it.
"I'm stoked as. I knew I had a good chance of being chosen because I had been trying to race my best in every race. I tried to be consistent and I think I've proven that with my results.
"I'm so happy to have this opportunity. So far I feel equipped with the skill, my bike needs a few things to be checked, some of my travel expenses are paid for, so I'd say preparations are just sweet as."
To help with his expenses at the World Championships he is holding a hangi fundraiser on Friday. For more information search Tuhoto-Ariki Pene MTB on Facebook.