Teenage cyclist Nicole Shields has come a long way in seven months.
The 14-year-old Dunstan High School student has recently come back from Australia, where she raced with the New Zealand under-17 squad at the Junior Tour Canberra. She returned with a gold medal for her individual time trial, and a silver for placing second overall in the tour.
A pretty impressive achievement for a girl who started cycling seriously only seven months ago - after accepting a training offer from Alexandra coach Simon Smith.
Nicole said she decided to start training with Smith for the U15G Junior Tour of Southland in October and, after coming away with a gold, the medals kept coming in.
"After the Tour of Southland, I started to think about [cycling] a bit differently. I had always enjoyed it but it had always been a bit casual."
Training for the Junior Tour of Southland had been a bit rushed, with her programme not starting until after her netball season in winter, she said.
"I was riding twice a day, doing tour simulations. Training was pretty hard but it made racing easier."
After winning the Tour of Southland she was "surprised" to win the U15G Tour of Manawatu two months later, she said.
"It's quite tactical . . . my best strength is time trial - I'm by myself and don't have to worry about what anyone else is doing."
Smith said Nicole's "natural talent" was not the only factor getting her medals.
"Natural talent only gets you so far. The difference is the effort you put in. Nicole is a very talented athlete across the board and has a really good work ethic - the combination of the two is lethal. A lot of people have one and not the other."
In March, Nicole was selected for the NZ U17G Development Squad, and in April went on to place second in the Elite Women Tour de Wakatipu MTB Race and second in the U17G Te Awamutu Junior Tour.
In May, she won the U17G national club champs individual time trial and road race. She was unbeaten in the time trial events throughout all her tours.
If that was not enough of an achievement, the teenager is also in her school's senior A netball team and is in the NZ netball development programme.
Article and photo courtesy The Southland Times