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Have mountain bike, will fly, Sian A’Hern takes national title

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Have you heard the name Sian A’Hern?

At 22, the Canberra born and bred mountain bike rider has blazed a trail into the record books, taking out last year’s Downhill National Championships in the Elite Women’s category, and last week, clenching it for a second, glorious, time.

Before COVID hit, she competed in the Downhill World Cup in 2019, placing sixth, following a ninth place in the Downhill World Championship earlier in the year.

And before that she was a Junior World Series Champion among a raft of titles that show that she is among the best in her field and that she, clearly, has nerves of steel.

How else does one claim the title such as “Queen of Cannonball” for three consecutive years, or a Super Enduro champion?

You only need to look at her Instagram feed to see GoPro footage of her flying down a steep and narrow mountain track—and we use that word advisedly given she often has both wheels well and truly off the ground.

Sian Ahern. Credit: Nick Waygood.

But ascending to the top of her given sport has only been the result of almost single-minded determination fuelled by supportive parents, and a brother, Kye, who is also a champion mountain bike rider.

Their dad, Nick, was a former Olympic race walker and two-times Commonwealth games Gold Medallist.

“I think growing up with a father who was an athlete himself helped shape both my brother and I into the athletes we are today, having him guide us in the right direction with training and mindset which I have found to be such a key element to my success,” Sian said.

“Growing up was always funny, I remember years ago when I was about 7 or 8 years old, going to Thredbo to hike up Kosciusko and my mum and dad told my brother and I that we were going to walk from the very bottom of the chairlift all the way to the top of Australia. Most normal families and people would have caught the chair lift, then walked the summit, but no not the A’Herns! I remember quite well my brother and I saying, ‘why can’t we have normal parents?’”

Yet Sian looks back now and thanks for being that way. The family now works together running A’Hern Fitness, a personal training business on Canberra Avenue in Griffith.

“My parents have given everything into both my brother and I for years and years, and they never forced us to do sport, believe it or not, they never pushed us or made us do anything we didn’t want to do. I tried so many different sports growing up and the only sports I loved were the ones on two wheels.”

After and intense flirtation with the expensive sport of motocross, which Sian pursued between the age of 8 and 13, she took a break.

“I fell into the trap of being a teen age girl, going to the shops with my friends, going to parties, falling into the wrong crowd and not doing any activity at all. My brother wanted me to try mountain bike riding and so I did. I loved it and within a few months I raced my first race in February of 2015 at the Thredbo National Round and here we are seven years later and I have just won my second Elite national Tittle.

Sian Ahern. Credit: Nick Waygood.

But there have been a few hard knocks along the way—mainly between Sian and the rocky ground over which she rides.

In 2015 at the National Championships at Bright, Victoria, Sian had a crash in practise and hurt her knee. While it was pretty swollen, she finished the week of racing before coming home to discover a serious injury requiring surgery.

“Having an injury only a few months after starting was quite disheartening but I kept at it. The knee healed up and back into it I was, racing again and building up my confidence.”

Then in 2016 she won her first ever World Cup as a junior in Fort William, Scotland, and thing were going extremely well as she headed to Andorra the weekend before World Championship.

But then came a crash. It was huge and Sian broke her wrist in a number of places. She returned home, had more surgery and got back on her bike.

In December of 2017, she was racing the Cannonball festival in Thredbo and broke her wrist the run before the finals run.

“I strapped it up and raced with it, probably the worst pain I’ve ever been in.”

In 2018, she nervously returned to Andorra again (where she broke her wrist in 2016), and had another huge crash.

“I broke my other wrist, just as bad as last time, tore my AC joint in my other shoulder and fractured my hip and pelvis. I was guttered, I couldn’t believe this had happened to me.”

And yet she maintained focus. And put one foot in front of the other.

Sian Ahern. Credit: Nick Waygood.

“I stayed positive and kept my head high, got home had my surgery and rehab, got back to a healthy and strong body and got on with it.

Sian believes what sets a good mountain bike rider apart is as much mental skill as physical.

“A good mountain bike rider needs a good head on their shoulders. You are racing not only against yourself, other competitors, the clock, the elements, a forever-changing course but your own head. There is so much that goes into being a great mountain bike athlete and I think being strong physically and mentally is such a huge part in being successful. Yes bike skills are super important and you can’t ride a bike fast without those skills, but I’d say a strong mind is just as important.”

Sian Ahern. Credit: Nick Waygood.

Over her career, Sian has been part of a new wave of young female champions who are bringing more attention to the sport, but sadly a pay gap and lack of equal representation in sponsorship deals and media cover continues in professional mountain bike riding.

“Women and men in mountain biking ride and race the exact same track, same conditions, same everything. I have so much respect to all of the women out there in the sport who are doing such awesome things and upping the level every day,” she said.

Sian Ahern. Credit: Nick Waygood.

In an ideal world she would “love for women to be paid the same as men, have the same opportunities as men and more team opportunities and support. I found in racing overseas there are not as many women on teams and there is less support out there especially us women from here in Australia. It is obviously so much harder to get anyone from Australia overseas and much more expensive but I feel if more Australians and women from all over were given the opportunity they would surprise a lot of people. We have so much talent in Australia—both men and women—and I wish that more people were given a shot!

With thanks to Nick Waygood for the use of these images.

 

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