Three-year-old Toni James longed to follow her big brother around the BMX circuit. "I spent some time watching from the sidelines before deciding it would be more fun to just join in and ride,” the Waitākere Township resident says.
Now aged 29, the rising star on the BMX track is tasting success after years of sheer grit and determination. Toni has taken two titles in the BMXNZ North Island Titles, hosted by her club, Waitākere BMX, and sponsored by The Trusts.
The bicycle mechanic won the 25+ Female 20” North Island Champion and 17-39 Female Cruiser North Island Champion. “It was so awesome to be able to race well at my home track, especially after all the effort the club put in to make this event possible,” she says. “Winning at home is just something special and one that I will always remember. In my time at the club, we have only had one major event like this which was in my early years. So, it was very cool to see a big race come back to our community and be executed to such a high standard.”
More than 500 racers from Australia and New Zealand entered the three-day event in Ranui. Waitākere BMX Club riders saw success with four North Island Champions and 27 riders making it into the top eight of their respective classes.
Toni thrived on the fierce competition. “Having the best riders in New Zealand come to race a big event like this at Waitākere was very cool to watch and be a part of.”
She juggles working full-time with training and coaching at her club. “I really enjoy coaching and helping others to reach their goals. Seeing all the small improvements and wins that each rider has in their racing and training is so enjoyable.”
Leading up to the North Island titles, she would train most days for two hours in the early hours of the morning. “Then after work, I’d head down to the track and get on the bike,” she says. “I am very lucky to have a quality track so close to home that I can train on and a club that is super supportive of all their club members. Thank you to The Trusts and the other sponsors for their support and contribution to the club. Without this support, these championships would not have been as successful.”
Over the years, the gruelling sport has led to Toni breaking her hand three times. But injuries fail to deter her. “BMX is a pretty tough sport and at some stage, you’re bound to fall off when your goal is to always go faster,” she says. "Overcoming the setbacks only makes you stronger on and off the bike.”
Toni credits the sport for forging great friendships “and the places these small bikes can take you are incredible.” Through racing and coaching, she has travelled all over New Zealand, to Australia, the United States, Belgium, France, and Scotland.
A highlight was racing in the 2018 BMX World Championships at Baku, Azerbaijan where she placed third in the 17-29 female cruiser class. "It was so different from anywhere I had been before. There is no way I would have travelled to Azerbaijan and been able to explore their country if this event wasn’t being held there. The culture was a shock at first but once we came to understand it, we were all thankful we could experience something so different to home."
Her goal this season is to return to the BMX World Championships in Rockhill, USA, held in May 2024. “I finished second last year in France and would really like to go one better.”
Waitākere BMX president Gareth Lauchlan says the North Island titles were an outstanding success with BMX New Zealand and the BMX community blown away by the facilities and the event. “It has firmly put the Waitākere BMX Club as a top facility within NZ for hosting future events,” he says. “None of this would have been possible without the funding and support we have received from The Trusts, so thank you for being part of our journey!”
The financial contributions and support from The Trusts have enabled the committee to build the facilities at their track to a level suitable for hosting major events, he says. “Previously the track was in a rundown condition and the surrounding facilities were unsuitable for large-scale events. We now have a facility that is receiving fantastic reviews from both riders and spectators due to the enjoyment they have when coming to our track.”
The club has already been approached to put in a bid to host the BMXNZ Nationals, Gareth says, which could see twice as many riders attending. “Before we set this in motion, our committee and volunteers are having a well-deserved break after a mammoth effort to deliver an event we can all be proud of.”
You can see the BMXNZ North Island Titles results here: https://our.sqorz.com/org/bmxnz/event/64ecff15c57e6eb8ccc789f5/classes
Watch live streaming of the event here: Saturday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ARQsDhKmOQ
Sunday (Finals Racing): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCtHwbTRPGs