Sarah cycles to success

Mount Gambier’s Sarah Dally has only just scratched the surface of her cycling career and looks to focus on the bigger stage.

Dally has taken the unconventional ride towards the top, having come from a background of not being interested in cycling at all.

The passion started when an opportunity arose out ‘of the blue’ when she was a Year 10 student at Mount Gambier High School.

The South Australian Sports Institute attended the school to hold a talent identification program where Dally was recognised by experts.

“I was in the athletics program at the time and there was a spare bike, so my teacher was like ‘jump on’,” she said.

“I jumped on and did a six second power test and a two-minute endurance test to get going.

“I tested really well, so from there I was invited to join the Limestone Coast Regional Sporting Academy and just started training and went from there.”

Ever since being unexpectedly introduced to the world of cycling, Dally has rapidly pedalled her way from club level to the top.

The young cyclist said it had taken an enormous amount of hours to reach the elite level.

“Day-to-day training varies on the intensity of the week, whether there are any races coming up and what my focus is during that month,” she said

“I am also balancing full-time work, piano teaching and being an intern with the South Australian Rural Youth Ambassadors, so the training load can be quite challenging.

“I will often train between 15 and 22 hours per week.

“This involves two to three gym sessions, one reformer pilates session, two recovery rides and four to five longer track/road sessions.

“Recovering as best as I can is also important, so I will often participate in a yoga class, have a remedial massage or a steam/sauna session each week to ensure my body is feeling at its best.”

Earlier this year she was selected to represent South Australia at the national track championships in Brisbane and returned home with a silver and bronze medal.

“It was my first time racing on the track, so it was pretty scary,” Dally said.

“I spent quite a bit of time leading up to nationals in Adelaide training with the staff team, so that was a very big learning curve.

“I was driving in the city and living by myself for the first time, but everyone was supportive and we went up to Brisbane for the nationals and came away with a silver medal in the team pursuit.

“I also got equal third in the individual pursuit and then stayed for the Oceania Championships as well with New Zealand. We raced them and I came away with two fourth placings.”

Dally was highlighted as an emerging athlete which was followed by a full scholarship with the South Australian Sports Institute.

To get to the highest level she said it had been tough to adapt to the mental and physical pressure.

“The past 12 months have been both physically and mentally demanding,” Dally said.

“Cycling is a very challenging sport so I still have so far to go from learning the different races to bike mechanics, cycling terminology, how to analyse data and fix punctures.

“Mental preparation is the most influential factor in how well I perform in competition.

“Committing to a strict training regime, but also finding time to switch off and see friends and family has been challenging.

“I do not think it’s possible to achieve the perfect balance, but working with a sports psychologist has helped me to calm my nerves and learn how to focus on what I can control.

“Some athletes like to hype themselves up pre-race, however I find staying calm, focusing on my breathing, listening to music and reminding myself to have fun and of how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to race seems to work best for me.”

One technique the rider uses to prepare for each event is visualisation.

“By visualising each aspect of my race I feel more in control and I am not as nervous as my body has already experienced the race in my mind 100 times beforehand,” Dally said.

“Come race day it is almost instinctive – my body just knows exactly what to do.”

The future is bright for the Mount Gambier cyclist with her first goal to make the national team in the next two years, while competing at the 2026 Commonwealth Games in Victoria and 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane is the big dream.

Dally has some incredible support behind her including coach Ashlee Anjudinoff, who has been to three Olympic Games and won a women’s individual pursuit world championship, while Australian riders Maeve Plouffe and Annette Edmondson are also by her side.

Dally said their guidance had helped her ride the wild wave of the sport.

“My rise from being an amateur athlete to an elite athlete happened very quickly which has made it challenging,” she said.

“I still pinch myself sometimes that I’m in this position, but I still of course have so much to learn.

“Physically, my body has adapted over time to the increase in training and I am slowly learning different recovery techniques to ensure I’m feeling the best I can for training.

“Also, accepting that it takes time to see progress and I cannot expect to win every race straight away is extremely challenging.

“I am still very fortunate to be in this position and to have support that I do, it is all amazing.”

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