It has never been about the destination for Hamilton BMX rider Tony Rika - he says "it's all about the journey".
The 72-year-old competed at the BMX Nationals in Cambridge over Easter Weekend in what was his 22nd appearance at the national event.
"For me, BMX is a journey, a 22-year journey," Rika said.
"It's been a passion and we've come right through the whole system with our grandchildren and our oldest grandchild now is 25 and she is still racing."
In July, Rika will race against riders from around the globe at the UCI BMX World Championships after he qualified in the 30 years plus, 22 inch masters class.
"I'm just rapt to be able to qualify - just go there [to the worlds]. It's the first time ever in New Zealand and likely in my time it will be the last time, if the Rugby World Cup's anything to go by - 24 years apart. So I'm just so pleased to roll off the ramp."
Currently the oldest rider in New Zealand, Rika will be 73 by the time the world championships roll around, and thinks he could possibly be the oldest rider in the world too.
But it is the excitement of competing against world-class riders that Rika says he will look forward to.
"There's so many riders out there that you've read about and there's people that have been on top of their game for many years in BMXing and I'll be rubbing shoulders with those guys and I enjoy that."
Rika started in the sport in the late 1980s when he introduced his grandchildren to BMX and the rest is history.
"We introduced them to BMX and they were five and under then and we've gone through that whole 22 years with our grandchildren competing."
The man affectionately known in BMX circles as "Poppa" said his family have been a important factor in why he continues to race year after year.
"It's good we can go along as a family. It's a very good family sport to get involved with because everybody has a part to play."
Over the course of his racing career, Rika said he had a number of memorable moments within BMX, including claiming a national title back in 2000 in the 50-plus age group.
In addition to his achievements he has bagged several North Island championships and was made a life member of BMX New Zealand in 2003 and similarly honoured by the Hamilton BMX Club.
Rika believes he has raced on tracks from Whangarei through to Invercargill and over time has picked up his fair share of injuries, including a shoulder dislocation and a few broken bones in his hand and foot.
"That's all part of it, I don't think you can expect to get on a BMX bike and not have an injury. One way or the other, you'll come up with a gravel-rash or something."
But through it all Rika doesn't intend to slowing down anytime soon as long as his family are still involved.
"Plans going forward, we'll get this New Zealand world BMX champs, we'll compete there and just see how we go from there.
"There is no real plans to do any sort of retiring from it. Not while the rest of the family are still involved."
So Tony Rika will be a name to continue to watch out for in BMX for years to come yet.
- Waikato Times
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