At just 20 years, Stephanie McKenzie has a big goal – and it’s been a long-term one for many years. That is to be selected to ride for New Zealand at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and then the Rio Olympics in 2016. If successful, the ace track sprinter will still be a mere “youngster” in the eyes of many of her competitors and she will still have a long career on the track ahead of her.
But the goal to race at such major international competitions is the bigger picture to the day-today goals that Steph is constantly setting herself – “those are the smaller, realistic goals – the achieveables that keep you feeling strong and confident and keep you focussed and continually trying to improve and better yourself,” she says.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been bumps along the way.
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when just eight, Steph had a promising career as a gymnast and then represented NZ in weightlifting, before injury closed that door. “With gymnastics I didn’t have successes – when I started cycling the successes started coming immediately and I realised that was what I needed to not only enjoy what I was doing but to keep on pushing myself as well.
“Cycling is quite a self-driven sport and there are ups and downs, so I make sure I use those downs to drive and push myself further. The other day I had a down one, so the next day I picked myself back up and refocused and reset realistic goals – it just works and you get through it.”
That’s even more prudent since Steph is currently training without an official coach.
She recently just returned from her first stint in Trexlertown, in the US, which was a fully funded and supported trip under her new Team Novo Nordisk – a global sports team with more than 100 cyclists, triathletes and runners who all have Type 1 diabetes. Steph says there were many highlights from her first US racing experience.
“Racing on a different track, builds more skills and expertise and helps you to adapt to the varied racing tracks around the world, and racing for a US team in the US on my first time was quite fitting.
“Meeting so many new people was amazing too because they will be all the contacts and friends that you can use to your advantage for future overseas opportunities.”
The experience in Trexlertown at the UCI Festival of Speed certainly allowed Steph to leave a lasting impression. The gun sprinter – who says the keirin is not her strongest event – won the women’s keirin race two straight weeks in a row, proving to an international field that she is certainly one to watch.
Being back in Invercargill and currently doing the hard slog of training solo on cold mornings at the Velodrome – due to all training partners currently overseas – also at Trexlertown or Junior Worlds, or the just recently returned men from their European campaign – Steph says it is about getting back to those realistic goals and adapting to every situation you’re given.
Her advice to any young and aspiring track sprinters: “Be confident and self-driven and remember to set realistic goals – it’s only you who is stopping yourself from achieving.
Captions: Steph McKenzie (right) and good friend and fellow sprinter Natasha Hansen celebrate after defending their NZ women's team sprint title and breaking the NZ record at the 2013 Elite Track Nationals in February.
Steph battles the extreme cold to train at the SIT Zero Fees Velodrome