Winning a gold medal at the Olympics is the ultimate goal for 17-year old BMX champion, Jessie Smith.
A goal that has been boosted and steered in the right direction with Jessie’s selection in the New Zealand team for the upcoming Youth Olympics in Argentina.
No stranger to the international stage having won back to back World titles (in two classes) and New Zealand national titles, the determined racer is planning to go further when she returns from Argentina and eventually competes at the women’s elite level.
“The transition into Junior Elite this year has been a big jump and past achievements won’t help so I’m just waiting to step up again and make the most of the opportunities.”
The women’s elite level will see Jessie in a league of competitors she idolises including close friend and mentor, Olympic BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker.
“It’s crazy and cool because I’ve looked up to Sarah since I started. I was fortunate to be her assistant in South Africa when I was 12 and have been part of a group she guides for the last six years. We feed off each other and she’s always pushing me in a good way.”
In a pay it forward type cycle Jessie also has a group of young riders she mentors. “I really enjoy helping out the kids where I can. I feel like that’s a win for me because it’s not always about results.”
Like her beloved tracks results have been up and down throughout her career and have come at great cost and sacrifice. Originally from Gisborne, Jessie’s parents’ made the decision to pack up their lives and head to Hamilton in 2014 as all four children were doing well on the BMX circuit.
“Mum and Dad would drive all day and night across NZ on the weekends to get us to our competitions and then drive back to get to work on Monday. They’ve gotten me to where I am now but the next couple of years are going to be tough because BMX is an expensive sport to love.”
“People have suggested creating a give a little page but I don’t like asking for money. Don’t get me wrong financial support would be great but those initiatives are for people who actually need the money for health reasons – I just need it to reach my sporting goals.”
When she isn’t at school or training (six days a week) Jessie works part time in a food truck to help fund her dream.
“I work at concerts like Adele and Justin Bieber. It’s real hard out with the number of customers, and occasional screaming from unhappy ones but I enjoy it as I’m continuously learning to deal with pressure situations.”
Jessie’s optimism and maturity is noticeable in the recollection of her experiences. Obstacles are seen as opportunities rather than failures and she’s had a few.
The 2016 Worlds was definitely a test of attitude and character. Jessie got food poisoning in the lead up and didn’t want to race. “After training all year for that one moment the desire was not there. I remember Sarah saying I would be able to get through a lot if I pushed through that setback and surprisingly I did. I was gutted to get 5th but from a young age BMX teaches you things that can be applied in life off the bike and that helped me.”
Fast forward to the 2017 Worlds and the experience was the complete opposite. Feeling confident Jessie switched up her normal race routine.
“People asked why I would take such a big risk in the final but I wanted to challenge myself. It was the perfect time to learn. It’s weird because in one of my biggest moments I was the calmest I’ve ever been and I won.”
In her first year of Junior Elite Jessie missed out on the final by 0.1 of a second.
“At first I was gutted. I thought I didn’t have any expectations but obviously I did. I really wanted to make the final and the pressure from everyone saying I would got to me. But on reflection there wasn’t any pressure, it was just me. I learnt more from that one race by pulling everything apart. That doesn’t necessarily happen when you win. Failure makes you who you are, it makes you better.”
With all the learning curves, the biggest lesson is not one moment but rather a collection of thoughts – ones of not trusting or believing in herself. “People say I’m talented and skilled but I’m always thinking am I?”
“If I’m honest I put myself down a lot, it’s really bad. I’m not sure why but I’ve always been hard on myself with my riding. In my eyes if it’s not perfect then it’s not good but I’m learning to be kinder and back myself because if I don’t everything goes out the window.”
Believing in her abilities has become paramount especially with the idea of competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “I was aiming for the 2024 Olympics but Sarah thinks 2020 is achievable. For me everything needs to click so we’ll see how things go.”
Outside of BMX
Planning ahead for life after BMX may not be a priority at the moment but it guides her decision making around schooling and education.
“Education is important as I know BMX is only for part of my life. It’s everything now but I also know what I need to do and study to help with where I want to be long term.”
An outdoor instructor is high on the list as it combines Jessie’s likes and strengths. “I love being productive outside, anything from fishing, diving, surfing to mountain biking and hunting. I struggle to sit still in a classroom but the teachers help a lot and are understanding of my sporting commitments.”
“I also love learning about the body as it helps with my riding and hanging out with my friends.”
One friend stripped it back to basics and pointed out that Jessie essentially trains all year-round for approximately four minutes of racing. When you look at it from that perspective, travelling around NZ and across the world for a 40 second race may seem trivial or thrilling to some people but either way it’s what Jessie Smith does and loves. And that’s what she’ll keep doing to reach Olympic gold.
To keep up to date with Jessie and the Youth Olympic visit the official website
Photo credit: www.bmx.net.nz