Cheering from the Side-lines
by Martin Fox: Dad and Coach to Gracie Fox, under 9 MTB Champion
My daughter Gracie took to a bike like a duck to water the very day she turned 3 years old. I didn’t get that proud Dad moment of teaching her to ride for the first time; instead, a very determined Gracie, unhappy on a balance bike and stabilisers, climbed on and rode off all by herself (without crashing!!).
It was at this point that, as a keen cyclist myself, I started to wonder what the future would hold if someone this determined was so happy on two wheels. Gracie had always shown an interest in competition but I wanted to wait until I thought the time was right for her first race!
Fast-forward 3 years and at the age of 6 years and 3 months Gracie took her first race win as an Under 9 Female! Boys and girls line up together in the younger categories of Mountain Bike Racing but being amongst the boys on the start line never fazed her. If anything she uses this to her advantage.
Some of the boys are very fast and if she can stick with them, even for a lead out, she knows she’s in for a good ride. Furthermore, at just 7 years old Gracie won the Under 9 Southern XC MTB title with maximum points and the Regional Championship title in 2014 for the second consecutive year and finished the season undefeated.
Gracie’s inspiration is Canadian Olympian and MTB World Cup XC Rider Emily Batty. We both tune in together to watch the highlights of the XC World Cup races and Gracie makes regular visits to Emily’s website to watch video edits. Emily has even acknowledged Gracie’s support and success on Twitter which always gives her a boost for the next ride! Social media is a powerful tool!
As her parents, we are so proud of her for everything she has achieved in such a short space of time. Watching her race is incredibly nerve wracking because she is our little girl! But winning isn’t everything. We are more proud of the way she has developed from a confidence and a social-interaction perspective. Competitive cycling isn’t just about getting to the finish line in the quickest time; it’s also about enjoying being around other like-minded children male or female, and making new friends along the way.
Due to Gracies success on a bike people often ask what age should their child start competing? I wouldn’t say that age should necessarily dictate when a child should start racing. I think perhaps that it is more about a) whether THEY want to have a go and b) whether the parent or event organiser believes that they are ready.
As an experienced coach I find it can sometimes be easy to forget that children are NOT adults and therefore how we pass encouragement requires differentiation. Riding a bike is fun and it should remain that way. Whether their cycling is recreational or competitive, as long as they have a big grin from ear-to-ear, then that is really all that matters.
Whether or not Gracie one day reaches the dizzy heights of Olympic Champion will remain to be seen, but whatever the future holds she will always be a happy cyclist and we will always be very proud of her for that!
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