FROM the age of 12, Sara Carrigan always dreamt of representing her country in the iconic green and gold, taking home a gold medal at the Olympics.
While she was too young to know then what her sport of choice would be, to see out her ambitious life goal, the little girl from Gunnedah, Tamworth, didn’t give up on her dream.
Though she would ride her ‘red rocket’ push bike around on the farm, it wasn’t until the age of 15 – after moving to the Gold Coast – that she was introduced to road cycling as a sport, through a High School Sports Talent Search.
From the outset, road cycling was something she loved, so following a natural progression; she soon pumped the pedal on her career as an elite athlete, making the first Australian team at just 17 years of age.
Fast-forward seven years, Sara Carrigan’s life-long dream of winning gold came true, as she took out the top spot in the 130km Road Race at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games – a surreal and memorable moment for the then 24 year old.
“When I crossed that finish line, I experienced a burst of emotions – it was a mix of disbelief and happiness and once that settled, a quiet realisation that I was now an Olympic champion,” Carrigan said.
“It is an amazing feeling knowing you have achieved your life dream.”
With a dedicated training program that involved riding between 600 to 800km a week – stretching to 1,000km on select weeks – Sara’s success over the years as a professional cyclist saw her also become a Commonwealth Games medallist, two-time national champion, World Cup winner, 12-time Australian championship medallist as well as Queensland and Australian Female Road Cyclist of the Year on numerous occasions.
Among the myriad of medals won, from her time spent representing Australia at countless sporting events, including eight World Championships, two Olympic Games and two Commonwealth Games, Sara was awarded the coveted Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2005 for her outstanding sporting achievements.
But when a tragic accident occurred ahead of a road race in Germany later that year – that saw members of her Australian cycling team hit and one killed by a motorist, while training – Sara’s ability to perform wavered.
“Even though I wasn’t on the ride with them, the news of this had affected me mentally,” she said.
“Prior to this accident, cycling came so naturally to me – I was like a duck in water, but after this happened, I felt paralysed.
“I still had to race a few days later, and found I couldn’t do anything properly. At the time I didn’t know what was going on, it wasn’t until later – after working through it – that I realised it was fear.”
Taking the next year off, Sara returned to racing, to represent her country on home soil at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
“I didn’t want to miss the chance to race in my home country, so I went there and gave it my best, but I wasn’t the same.”
For the next two years, Sara continued racing, however she admits she never quite got back to level she had been at.
With this in the back of her mind, together with losing the – what she calls ‘1 per cent of mongrel’ – in her, driving her to compete to the fullest, three months after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Sara decided to hang up her helmet on her racing career.
“It was a difficult decision to make, I would cry every time I thought about it, but I knew it was time.”
Always wanting to become a teacher – having started her studies in education in 1999, before switching to business to suit with her lengthy travelling schedule – and inspired to get into road safety, following her own personal struggles on the bike, Sara retired from professional cycling in December 2008 and by February 2009, with a Level One UCI/CA Coach Accreditation behind her, had opened her own cycling school.
“What had happened in Germany helped me to understand others’ fear of riding,” Carrigan said.
“This was my inspiration for getting into road safety and to teach others. When I first started cycling on the Gold Coast, you knew everyone out on the road – that was how little cyclists there were at the time.
“Now there are plenty. I would go away for eight to nine months a year, and when I would come back there would be more and more people out riding, however many of these would have negative first experiences.”
Wanting to help others experience the same joys of riding she had, Sara’s Sara Carrigan Cycling school assists riders of all levels, from kids to adults; from the first pedal stroke to elite athletes.
“Cycling for me is a way of life – I have had so many learning experiences from it, which has seen me grow so much as a person,” she said.
“I love the freedom, adventure and exploration of cycling and it’s so fulfilling to now be apart of other people’s journey.
“People would come to the school and would be quite fearful at first, but once they had lessons it opened the flood gates of confidence. The simple act of riding a bike has helped so many people.”
Backed by a team of instructors, one being her husband Stevo, Sara’s passion for cycling only continued to grow as she made the transition from professional athlete to coach, taking up to three sessions a day.
“Being a coach is great as I am still involved in what I love, but with a different focus,” she said.
And though she has had to shift her focus from cycling in recent years, as she enjoys the early stages of motherhood – with her three year old daughter Bobbi and one year old son Jarley, both of whom follow in their mother’s footsteps, scooting around the household on their plastic bikes – her end goal is to continue improving road safety education for cyclists and motorists alike.
“There is still a lot to do in this space, but I’m doing my little bit,” she said.
“A lot of new cyclists want to do the right thing on the roads, but they don’t know how. My school helps to educate new riders, giving them the skills they need to ride safer and respect motorists.
“But it’s a two way street, and road rage from motorists is normally caused by fear, as the driver doesn’t really know or understand what the cyclist is doing.
“We’ve held educational workshops for drivers before, getting them on the bike, to put the shoe on the other foot and help them see why cyclists do certain things – which they have found incredibly eye-opening.
“I would love to see more of these rolled out, and licensing change to have a great focus on cyclist safety, to make it a safer place on the road for both cyclists and motorists.”
Recently named co-mayor of the Athlete’s Village at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Sara has also been heavily involved in special sporting events as well as committees, being an executive board member of the QLD Olympic Council as well as an active travel ambassador for the Gold Coast City Council.
And while she has already enjoyed a successful life – so much so, there is a street named Sara Carrigan Crt, in her honour – she looks forward to the next leg of the ride.
For more information, www.saracarrigan.com
For media information, interviews or photos please contact Sarah Matulin at Ruby Communications on (07) 3216 0400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org