An inspiring Northland youngster who used dogged determination to win a North Island road race title after just eight months of cycling has been invited to take part in the 34th Junior Tour of Southland.
Tyla-Mia Foster won the U13 North Island Secondary School championship in Cambridge in July, becoming what is believed to be the first road cycling champion from Northland.
She beat more than 30 competitors from some of the most prestigious schools in the country.
Tyla-Mia Foster from Kaitaia and the Far North Flash team.
But what made the win even more impressive was the 12-year-old hadn't been on a bike until eight months before the race.
Tyla-Mia is one of six members of the pink-clad Far North Flash team, often seen riding around the streets of Kaitaia with their coach and sponsor, primary school teacher Phil Gibbs.
Gibbs said he wanted Foster to join his cycling team after he spotted her crying in a cross country race.
"She was third but she was crying because she didn't want to come fourth. She was prepared to fight through the pain and I knew I wanted to have her in the team," he said.
Gibbs trains his group of female athletes, who are aged from nine to 13, five times a week for cycling and twice a week for swimming.
He sponsors the bikes, equipment and the trips away to compete, with the riders asked to contribute $10 a week.
Yunca human resources manager Kylie Lewis, who saw Tyla-Mia's story in the media, was impressed by her determination and decided the Invercargill-based sponsor of the Junior Tour of Southland should offer a helping hand.
"We were so impressed by the inspiring effort and commitment Gibbs had shown in coaching, supporting and mentoring these young ladies. The story really touched us," she said.
She extended an invitation to Gibbs to bring Tyla-Mia and a team-mate down to the annual tour, which attracts riders from around the country.
Team-mate Crystal Wikaira will head south as well and it will be the first time the pair have been on a plane.
"We used to do scholarships to bring some of the top junior riders down to the race in one of the leading junior cycle tours in the Southern Hemisphere so we thought Tyla-Mia and Crystal would really benefit from this experience. We'll fly them down and provide accommodation and a car while they're here so they can really experience Southland," Lewis said.
"It's also a great opportunity to acknowledge the great work that Phil does with these girls. It's going to be a real experience for them and we can't wait to have them here."
The trio would also be given a chance to enjoy some southern hospitality, as well have the opportunity to ride the SIT Velodrome.
The Yunca Junior Tour of Southland has been a breeding ground for young cycling talent, with the likes of Tour of California winner George Bennett, Grand Tour rider Tom Scully, Piet Bulling, Nick Kergozou, World Junior omnium champion Campbell Stewart, Alex Frame, and Michael Vink among those taking part previously.
This year's event runs from October 6 to 8, with 106 riders registered to take part.
Caption: Tyla-Mia Foster in pink, from Kaitaia, will be riding in the Junior Tour of Southland in October.