Olympics

BMX champ chases dreams of gold and blue

While national BMX champ Rebecca Petch races for a place in the Olympic team for Tokyo 2021, she's also chasing another goal - to become a policewoman

Thinking about a career after sport can be tricky at the best of times.

Throw in a global pandemic and for some athletes, the questions they're mulling over in their heads can intensify. This is an accurate reflection of what's being going on in the mind of top Kiwi BMX rider Rebecca Petch. 

The thought of what lies ahead of her when she finally hops off her bike has been playing on her mind during this rocky period. But there's one thing that she’s very clear on among a list of uncertainties. 

Petch wants to swap out speeding on a bike track with pounding the beat with the police.

“My goal outside of the sport is to become a police officer, so I'm also working towards that at the moment,” says Petch. "It’s always been a goal because I like helping people and have always been really interested in it.” 

The 22-year-old reigning New Zealand women's champion says the financial side of BMX riding can be inconsistent and depends on racing outcomes, so she's keeping one eye on the future. 

 
 

“It’s a bit of a gamble," she admits. "I just thought when I finish BMX I'd rather do a job where I’m going to love it instead of choosing something that I’m not."

Petch is taking her time with the recruitment process so she can still focus primarily on working towards qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics next year. If her application is successful, she plans on doing both for as long as she can. 

“I'm really lucky because I’ve got pretty understanding coaches. I guess if you want something, you find a way to make it work. That’s what I'm going to do,” Petch says.

Rebecca Petch racing at the 2019 world champs. Photo: Nico van Dartel.

At first the delay of the Olympics was hard on Petch, who's dreamed of being an Olympian since she was at primary school. But as time passed, her thinking has changed. 

“I was pretty gutted at the start. But now I’m taking the approach of ‘I’ll be a year older’, and ‘I’ll have another year of training under my belt’. There are pros and cons but we just hope it goes ahead next year,” she says. 

The extra time has also meant her training schedule could be slightly altered and new tactics trialled. 

“I’m doing quite a big block of training focused on strength in the gym. It’s quite exciting to try something new and it’ll be good to see an outcome from it,” Petch says. “If Covid didn’t happen we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to try it out. 

“I have a lot of trust in my coaches and I’m feeling good about the phase I’m in. I can see improvements which I'm really happy with.”

Before Covid-19 put a stop to Olympic qualifying events, New Zealand had secured one female BMX spot for the Tokyo Games, and things were looking promising to gain a second. 

There's still a chance for a second New Zealand female rider to qualify, with new selection criteria being released soon. 

“We have four World Cup races next year in which we can gain points. But that’s a big ‘if they happen' because nothing is promised,” Petch says.

“But we’re making the most of the opportunity to be able to do really good training blocks through the winter and hopefully come the beginning of next year, we’ll be able to compete.”

NZ BMX riders Bayley Luttrell and Rebecca Petch. Photo: Nico van Dartel. 

Petch will be riding it out with New Zealand’s first BMX Olympic medallist, Sarah Walker, and current world junior champion Jessie Smith, to see who will be representing the nation in Tokyo next year. 

The dynamic of wanting to qualify another spot is quite complex, Petch says, as they are not a BMX team, but individual riders all seeking Olympic glory. 

“At the end of the day, they're going to send the rider with the best results. I guess not wanting to ride with each other isn’t going to help us at all, so we know we’re only going to get better by working together,” she says.

Like many BMX riders, Petch was inspired by Walker coming through the grades.

“When I was younger I looked up to Sarah. And now we train together sometimes and compete against each other which is pretty cool. She always gives me tips here and there if she thinks I need some advice,” she says.

Being an Olympic medallist is the long-term goal for Petch. She doesn’t know if that will be in 2021 or 2024, but she definitely knows it’s a big motivator. 

To keep on track during the initial Level 4 lockdown in New Zealand, Petch was at home in Te Awamutu.

“I had a little bit of gym equipment which helped with training. Now we’re not in lockdown it's quite good - I still go to work and training so everything is quite normal,” says Petch, who works in a coffee bar in Cambridge. 

Petch picked up BMX at the age of three because her older brother was already involved in the sport. She carried on throughout the years, but played other sports as well.

It wasn't until her final year at high school that she chose to ditch netball and focus exclusively on the riskier sport, when she started to reach BMX's elite level. 

“My grandparents decided to get me a bike and it’s stuck since then. My dad did it for a little bit as well so it's quite a good family sport,” she says. Her brother chose to continue with rugby instead and is now in the police force. 

If she stays on course, Petch may be linking up with him again and steering between her two ideal careers.  

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