If you were asked to picture a national title-holding BMX rider, your first thought probably wouldn’t be a 36-year-old Tauranga woman with a five-year-old son and newborn baby daughter.
But Vanessa Quin has found juggling a return to high-level sport with the demands of a young family and a job easier than you might think.
“You just make it work, don’t you? Most mums find they can fit way more into their days than they ever did before,” she says.
Quin competed in BMX as a child, but moved into downhill mountain biking while at university. She raced at the top level for about a decade, representing New Zealand at 12 world championship events – including 2004, when she won. But when her son, Jay, was born in 2008, she decided it was time to hang up her bike.
While she still enjoyed cycling recreationally, it wasn’t until this year that the thought of getting back into competition again crossed her mind.
Even though her daughter Indigo was only three months old, Quin competed at the BMX nationals in Easter this year, hoping to qualify for a spot at the World Championships (July 24 to 28 in Auckland).
“I had to do a lap, then come back and breastfeed, then go and do another lap. But with the Worlds coming to New Zealand was too good an opportunity.”
And it was worth it – she won the 30-plus women class.
A very skilled pursuit, BMX racing involves groups of eight cyclists sprinting across a track to be first across the line. There are jumps, quick manoeuvres, and clashes with other riders.
Not having competed in any sport for a few years, Vanessa was worried about rustiness. But she says it’s true that you never forget how to ride, even against some of the country’s best.
“I can get on and confidently ride, and I’m happy I haven’t lost or forgotten that. I was wondering how slow I might be, but the pace has come back really well.”
She has to fit in training around the kids, but says that’s one of the great things about BMX – even if she only has a short period of time, she can nip down to the local track and get in a few laps, leaving husband Niki Urwin to keep an eye on the kids.
“He’s fantastically supportive, and will pull up the slack when I want to go to the track. But it’s not like road riding, where you have to spend hours on your bike. I can put Indigo to bed, go down to the track, and cut a few laps before she wakes up.”
Her day job as a cycle safety instructor means Vanessa is on her bike then, too.
“It all fits in really nicely. I’m pretty mad for it – I’ve always had a passion for cycling.”
Jay is already really keen on his BMX, and Vanessa says they may compete as a mother-son combo in future years.
“He’s been down at the BMX track doing some laps. He’s too young to race at
the Worlds this year, but if he wanted to, we might both do it next year.”
There are lots of other mums racing in Vanessa’s class and she’s been really impressed with how seriously they take it – even the women who have only started racing BMX because their kids got into it first.
“They’ve gone from zero and I find that really commendable. It’s probably really daunting if you haven’t done a contact sport before. But our age group pretty much qualified for every spot in the Worlds that we could.”
Vanessa believes that every mum should take some time out in the day for herself.
“When you weigh everything up, you’ve got to do it because of, and in spite of, your children. I want to stay active and try new things, and set an example for the kids. We go to the track and Jay rides around and around and around. Next time, it will be my turn. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
With 2000 riders from 30 different countries competing in the four-day championships, it promises to be a massive event. But it’s not all business, with the family welcoming a big city holiday.
“There’ll definitely be sightseeing and downtime in Auckland.” And it will be well deserved."