A Vehicle For Change

If multitasking is anyone's middle name, it belongs to biker-chick Niki Gudex. "I am so passionate about mountain biking and cycling. Bikes are a great vehicle for change."

Before getting seriously involved in mountain biking, had you previously been pursuing other forms of sport? Yes I always had an adventurous and curious nature growing up and that evolved into an interest in sports. Starting with horse riding when I was about 11 then skateboarding, bodyboarding and I was also really interested in snowboarding until I broke my back, which is how I found my desire for endless winters evolve into a desire for endless summers.

What do you recall initially drew you to mountain biking? I liked the freedom of the bike, that I could travel further than I could walk or skateboard. I also felt relatively safe on a bike. It immediately felt very comfortable to me. I enjoy being outdoors so mountain biking is a great way to explore trails and different types of terrain. Because I grew up in the city, when I first got my bike I didn't know anyone who rode, or where to ride, so I went to a bike race and everyone was very friendly and welcoming to me. I also really appreciated that and I think that sense of a community really helped me feel like I was a part of something and that people looked out for each other.

What kind of physical and psychological benefits have you enjoyed from mountain biking? Mountain biking has changed my life. I have developed such a loving and respectful relationship with my body. I appreciate my body for getting me up the hills and my skill for getting me down them! Both of which are developed through training and just being out there doing it. So it is motivating when you can see improvements in strength, ability or endurance, even how you handle yourself. Also mentally it has been really rewarding, I find it very relaxing to go for a ride and process my thoughts or creative ideas. I also find physical exercise really puts a smile on my face and I get an endorphin hit!

Have you sustained many injuries from your participation in mountain biking? I have had a few, but I do try and ride within my limits to try to minimise them occurring. Sometimes they are unavoidable though. I've chipped teeth, twisted my hips, cuts, bruises, I hate to think about all the injuries actually. I am incorporating a lot of yoga in to my life now to try and compensate for some of the overuse, strain and injuries.

Have you come up against any challenges or hurdles in the sports world due to your gender, and what remains your motivation to push through during such challenges? Yes sometimes you may not be taken as seriously being a woman. I have also let myself become overtrained because I wanted to take on as much training as a man did, although my body just couldn't cope with such a huge workload.

My motivation to push through a challenge or hurdle varies but usually it is because I am driven to achieve a particular goal I have set for myself. That drive comes from my personal curiosity about how far I can push myself. I enjoy inspiring other people, particularly women, to feel confident to take on similar challenges, or even to explore the borders of their own comfort zone.

What kinds of sacrifices, if any, have come along with pursuing your outstanding sporting career? A lot. It definitely takes its toll on relationships, with friends and family, finances and health, because you are always pushing yourself in every way. Especially because I am from Australia, spending most of my time in North America and Europe means that it is hard to build up a home base. But the experiences are worth it because I am continually learning so much about myself, other people and the world through those sacrifices. I have made many friends and met so many incredible people through my sport.

What stands out for you as your highlight achievement/s in the sporting world? Competing at five World Championships really stands out to me as a highlight, representing Australia is something that I am very proud of.

What would be your message to any other young girls who look up to you and have similar goals and ambitions, but may be too afraid to take the leap or not know where / how to start? Believe in yourself. Listen to other people who you respect but ultimately you make your own decisions. If you really love something and feel that it is something you must do, then pursue it wholeheartedly. You don't have to be the best in the world, life is a process, have a plan then take it one day at a time.

How do you think pursuing and excelling in once-perceived 'male-dominated' sports can provide women with a sense of independence and empowerment? To find something that you want to give so much of your energy to is rewarding in itself, because you have meaning and purpose. To know what you want to do is very empowering because it enables you to move forwards. Independence is not necessarily doing everything on your own, because as an athlete you definitely need a great support network around you, but to feel confident and independent in your own life is a huge thing. Riding up to the top of a mountain using your own power is incredibly empowering.

Who are your female role models in the sporting arena? I really admire women who take on endurance sports or sports that are not necessarily in the spotlight or well funded. It takes a lot of discipline, passion and raw sweat (hard work) to succeed.

Do you think Australia is experiencing an overall shift in perception regarding male and female equality and acceptance in the sporting arena? What (if any) changes would you like to see in terms of female participation? Australia truly is a nation of sport lovers, while sporting women may not get as much media attention as the males, they are largely celebrated and encouraged to succeed nationally and internationally. I would love to see even more females encouraged into sport, not necessarily to compete but just so they can experience some of the life skills and self appreciation that sport can give.

What other goals do you have for the future, both in terms of continued sporting success and outside of the sporting arena? I really want to continue to grow as a person and give back some of the experiences I have. I am so passionate about mountain biking and cycling. It is a great vehicle for change. I want to continue to promote cycling. I have been studying acting and that is something I want to explore alongside my riding career.

You've also been successful in the world of modelling; do you think as women have become more involved with a wider variety of sports we have seen along with that an improved outlook on body image and expectations? If I wasn't an athlete I don't think I would have accepted the modelling work. I took on my first few jobs because I felt more comfortable in my skin. If I wasn't going to be the "right" size on the shoot I didn't mind, because that wasn't my priority. My body is the way it is because of all the cycling that I do. So I can look at those muscles and know that they are there because of what I do. There are all types of body shapes out there. We need to accept ourselves as we are. Because our individual beauty is our uniqueness. Also people have different aesethetics and genetics. What I may find attractive may appear completely different to someone else. The most attractive thing a woman can wear is self confidence.

Interview: Diana Timmins."A Vehicle For Change" Women's Health & Fitness Magazine, October 2010 Issue.