Tired, filthy dirty and full of smiles. This is how most mountain bikers return after a good, long ride on the trails. The smiles seem bigger though, and the dirt dirtier, when it comes to mountain biking kids!
The sport of mountain biking has seen unprecedented growth in South Africa over the past decade, and more and more youngsters are discovering and falling in love with the adventure-filled outdoor activity.
Mountain biking instructor and founder of the Sugar Rats Academy at Holla Trails, Gill von Buddenbrock, has been instrumental in growing the sport in the Ballito area over the past few years.
The mother of three discovered her own passion for mountain biking as an adult, having never had her own bicycle as a child. “I got my first bike when I was 26 years old and living in the UK. I was always sporty, but it was only after going for a mountain bike ride with my sister in Mount Edgecombe that I discovered how much I enjoyed it.”
Gill later signed up for a 45km race at Holla Trails – something she’d never done before – and fell in love with the sport. When she took a job in marketing at Holla Gill made it her mission to grow the sport amongst children.
“I would see parents going out on the trails and the kids staying back and I thought, this is wrong, the kids should be on bikes too,” says Gill, who then made it her mission to grow the sport she loved amongst the younger community.
“Not many kids were mountain biking at that stage and I started taking just a few kids out at a time. I was like the ‘pied-piper’ with the little ones trailing behind me.”
Slowly but surely Gill’s group of ‘Sugar Rats’ grew and eventually she was taking up to 30 kids out. They also started securing sponsorships and were supported by Spur schools’ mountain bike league. “I absolutely love seeing kids out on the trails. We start them from as young as five years old, even younger if they are off their training wheels, and it’s something they can still be doing in 50 years’ time if they want.”
As her team started to grow, Gill saw a need for a more structured training programme to be put in place. That’s where her now partner Scott Pearmain came in.
Originally from Scotland, Scott also only started mountain biking much later in life, at the age of 42. “I raced BMX’s and competed provincially in triathlons in my youth, but it was only about seven years ago that I got back onto a bike.”
Scott started helping Gill out on an ad-hoc basis about three years ago and joined the business full time last year. A qualified athletics coach, he runs the Elite Athletics Academy arm of their Elite Eventures business, offering one-on-one athletics training.
Both Gill and Scott are Holla Trails ambassadors and are passionate about growing the sport of mountain biking amongst the youth. Every week they teach their students a variety of skills, including technical skills development, trail etiquette and bike maintenance.
“This is such a great family sport and it’s great for kids who might be loners or those who don’t necessarily excel in typical school sports. We have a strong team ethos and our focus is on building their confidence and uplifting them,” says Gill.
She says the fact that local schools are embracing the sport is also fantastic. “I believe that every child should own a bicycle. This is such a wonderful sport, especial for children who might struggle socially and even kids on the autism spectrum. We love being out on the trails with them, hearing all their stories and building relationships with them. Their personalities really shine through.”
The Sugar Rats Academy offers rides on Tuesdays and Thursdays, depending on their level of ability from those who can ride around 5km to those who can ride more than 15km. They also have a sponsored ‘elite’ team for selected riders who have come through the Sugar Rats Academy and offer other fun activities like Sugar Rats holiday rides and holiday camps.
“I am my happiest when I’m on my bike, but when I am on my bike with kids around me, nothing on this planet makes me happier,” says Gill.
Details: 079 528 4665; https://sugarrats.co.za; [email protected]
Text: Leah Shone