Life focus shift for first lady of speed

BIKE WITH A BASKET: Sarah Ulmer signals the start of a Molenberg SUB Stride and Ride Series event.
BIKE WITH A BASKET: Sarah Ulmer signals the start of a Molenberg SUB Stride and Ride Series event.

She was the first New Zealander to win an Olympic Gold Medal in cycling and has one of the most recognised faces in New Zealand.

Sarah Ulmer became an instant legend when she slashed the world record for the 3000 metres women's pursuit to win gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

She was born in Auckland in 1976 into a family who knew a bit about success on the cycle track. Her grandfather, Ron, represented New Zealand at the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney while her father, Gary, held national road and track titles in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sarah started cycling competitively in the sixth form and by the time she attended the Athens Olympics had already won junior world titles and gold medals at consecutive Commonwealth Games.

She was also the world champion in her event.

In the lead up to the Olympics, her training included cycling 600 kilometres a week. Not surprisingly she was named the 2005 Halberg Sportsperson of the Year.

Based in Cambridge, in Waikato, Sarah was also made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to cycling in 2005.

She retired from competition in 2007 and is now the mother of two small children. Sarah will be in Nelson on Wednesday to speak at the Nelson Sportsperson of the Year Awards.

This week she took a couple of minutes out from motherhood to talk to the Motueka-Golden Bay News.

When you think back to the Athens Olympics, does it seem like a long time ago?
A lifetime, two children and more than a few kilograms ago!

What's your strongest memory of that amazing day?
Loads of memories. The euphoria (intermingled with exhaustion) of crossing the line realising we had ... done it.

Do you ever get your gold medal out and wear it around house? Haha ... only on Fridays. No, the only people that wear it now are kids at any schools I visit ... it's cool to see the excitement in them actually.

Where do you keep it?
Anywhere between my mum's, my car - if I've been school-visiting, a shelf at home ... no special place in particular.

Are you spending much time on the bike these days? Training for anything?

Training for something?! Thanks for asking! My bike comes with a basket and baby seat these days. But I love getting out on it when I can. Not so often now that Lily's sister has arrived.

In all your years of cycling, have you ever been a victim of road rage?
Yep. Chased by a car onto wrong side of the road, up onto the pavement with "I'm going to kill you!" yelled from the driver's window. But that's really the only one and was years ago. He was obviously bonkers. I very rarely have any altercations now on my bike.

Why is it, do you think, some people get so wound up about cyclists?

I'm not really sure. Maybe the Lycra?

Apart from promoting beef and lamb, what else are you up to workwise, these days?
I have my own business, SUB (women's fashion activewear and events), I do a wee bit of television work on the show Animal Academy and I'm an Olympic Ambassador  bring on London 2012!  but my main bosses are Lily and Emily.

Is becoming an Olympic champion and a world record holder good preparation for parenthood?

Hmm ... not necessarily! But it's great having two such completely different lifestyles. One where you think just about yourself all day, and one where you think entirely about a little someone else.

Has parenthood been what you expected?
No, it's infinitely better, to be honest. Way more fun than I ever expected.

How do you think becoming a mum has changed you? Hopefully for the better?! As I said, putting two little people ahead of anything else, especially myself, is a great turnaround.

What about the whole business of being seen as a role model? Is that a bit of a drag sometimes?
No. I guess it would if it meant I had to live a different lifestyle and do things differently in public than I would choose to. But the reality is, I don't do anything that outrageous. Basically I'm fairly boring!

If you could give every kid in New Zealand one piece of advice, what would it be?
Find a passion. Whatever it is. Find something that you love, that makes you fire, and rip into it with everything you've got.

What are you up to for Christmas and the holidays?
Sleeeeeeeeeping ... she says hopefully.

What are you looking forward to in 2012?