If anyone wondered how serious Burnie McGrath was about his new-found sport of cycling, they only had to look at his PlayStation for sale on TradeMe.
The 12-year-old from Te Awamutu took up cycling only in the second half of this year, inspired by a school project which saw him follow Olympic bronze medallist Simon van Velthooven.
"When the Olympics were on we had to pick a name out of a hat and we had to follow that Olympian in how they were doing and we did some research on them," said McGrath, who is year 8 at Korakonui School.
Having picked van Velthooven, McGrath watched the epic final of the keirin, where, on video review, van Velthooven was awarded bronze with Teun Mulder of the Netherlands, because the pair could not be separated.
"I felt really proud to be a Kiwi," McGrath said of watching that.
In February, McGrath, on a school camp, had also been inspired by a visit to the Olympic Museum in Wellington.
"I liked the wall with all the Olympians and names and I thought ‘I'd like to be on there one day'."
After McGrath carved up on the cycling leg of the school triathlon, McGrath's teacher Melinda Loader suggested he take up cycling.
Having previously been playing rugby, McGrath told his mum he wanted to swap sports, because that could take him to the Olympics one day.
From there he has been provided with a superb support network.
Another teacher from the school lent McGrath her son's old road bike and with it McGrath went to the Te Awamutu velodrome to practice.
There he met Te Awamutu club member Ross Clark, who told him about race nights, which attract upwards of 150 riders.
After practice rides at the beach in the holidays, McGrath took to racing with immediate success.
In the under-15s division he was second in the 6km time trial and the following week he won the 12km road race, riding off scratch.
After a couple of weeks, McGrath realised he did not know much about training so asked Loader's partner, Graham Bunn, if he could coach him.
Bunn had previously coached New Zealand reps Peter Latham, Tim Gudsell and Sam Bewley, and agreed to meet McGrath to discuss his goals and write a programme, which is updated and emailed every four weeks.
McGrath inherited Bunn's old cycling shoes and has also been given Latham's 2008 Olympic socks and the gloves of 2004 Olympian Michelle Hyland.
Last month track nights started at the Te Awamutu club on Wednesdays and Clark brought his son's old bike for McGrath to use.
On the track, McGrath mainly rides with adults and he is lapping up advice from former Olympian Cath Cheatley - Bike NZ's Waikato-Bay of Plenty regional development co-ordinator - and her husband Dayle - BikeNZ's women's endurance track coach.
Cath first saw McGrath at the first track race night of the season.
"He was set up on a bike and started in the newbies races," she said. "Two race nights later Burnie is riding B grade and winning races. He has an awesome sprint and never gives up."
McGrath competed at the Maunga Challenge last month and won the 12km kids race as well as the club under-15 mini tour (time trial and road race), the club under-13 hill climb trophy and the gold medal in the Waikato-BOP centre team time trial.
Back at the car after racing he found a flyer on the windscreen advertising the Back the Track campaign which allows the public to buy part of the new Avantidrome track in Cambridge.
"I thought I may as well do it to support it," McGrath said, adding that he might be famous one day with his name inked in support of the track.
He made the bold declaration he was going to sell his PSP and games in order to help get the $250 required to buy a metre of the track and his granddad helped with the remainder of the money.
With McGrath now fully hooked on cycling he is eyeing up a long future in the sport, hoping to emulate his idol van Velthooven.
"Yeah, I reckon if I keep practising, keep at it, don't slouch off, I could."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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