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Sporting Schools School Yard to Sports Star: Sara Carrigan

Sara Carrigan Olympics

Image: Sara Carrigan wins the 130-kilometre Road Race at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens

Cycling has been Sara Carrigan’s passion since she was 14. Originally from Gunnedah, Carrigan has lived her dreams and then some - winning Olympic gold in Athens in 2004, as well as the 2003 World Cup road race and two Australian championships (time trial).

Now a coach, she’s sharing her knowledge and passion through her own cycling school for all levels of ability from total beginners to the more experienced novice.

As #GC2018 nears, the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist reflects on where it all began.

What's your funniest sporting memory at school?

At our school swimming carnival we had raced all the freestyle events and were onto the breaststroke, I dived in and totally forgot that we were doing breaststroke and started swimming freestyle. I wasn't the best swimmer but could see that I was leading and couldn't believe it! I touched the wall and turned around to see everyone swimming breaststroke, the teacher leaned over and said "yep, you are disqualified". I was so embarrassed, I just wanted to sink to the bottom of the pool and never come up!

Were you always good at riding a bike? How did you get into it?

I first learnt to ride when I was 6 years old on my little ‘red rocket’ that was given to me for Christmas. I still remember learning the art of balance and the joy of being able to ride for the very first time. However, it wasn’t until I was 15 that I was first introduced to cycling at school when the local cycling club came to test students for potential. I didn’t make the cut on the first round but eventually was one of 15 students chosen and was given a road bike for 10 weeks to discover and enjoy the wonders of road cycling. I had no idea what a road bike was with the curly handlebars and skinny tyres or that the entire world of cycling existed but from that moment I absolutely loved it … and haven’t looked back!

Do you remember your first victory? 

Hmm, no I don’t. However, I do remember one of my first races and just how much I loved it.

When did you decide you wanted to cycle competitively and put all your energy into it?

Sara Carrigan ProfileAs a little girl, I wanted to represent Australia, wear the green and gold and become the best in the world. However, I had no idea in what sport or how it would even be possible for me to reach those heights.

I really found my passion when I found cycling. I love riding my bike for its freedom! I love that I can ride wherever, whenever and with whomever and I love the adventure that this brings. I love the exploration that comes with being able to pedal through mountains or alongside the beach, sucking in the fresh air, enjoying the beauty of the breathtaking views, and relishing in the feel of being at one with nature.

Because I just loved riding my bike, it was a natural progression to want to improve myself. I started racing the local races, then regional, state, nationals and junior world championships by grade 12. I definitely had to make some tough decisions when combining school with training, so I guess this is when all the energy started to shift to make cycling one of my priorities.

How often would you train?

A typical training week was around 400-800 kilometres per week with each daily training session varying from a 30 kilometre recovery day, to 180 kilometre enduring ride in the mountains. Many “off bike” sessions were also scheduled such as gym, core strength and yoga. The sessions I found most rewarding were those that really challenged me both mentally and physically – that pushed me to my limits where I didn’t think I could go any further. I would finish these training days feeling absolutely wrecked but feeling so content and proud of what I was able to push through. This gave me confidence and mental toughness to go even further the next time. 

Has your elite background made you a better coach?

Yes, I think so. I know what it takes and the tough decisions that are made by athletes and their friends and family around them. However, I very much enjoy the grassroots and helping people (young and old) onto a bike and helping them feel skilled, confident and safe so that they can enjoy the simple pleasures of rolling along on two wheels. 

Being a coach has been such a rewarding experience; the decision for most to partake in a simple cycling skill session has developed into a positive life changing process for both themselves and those around them. It has presented these people an opportunity to overcome fears, to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, to meet like-minded people, to feel empowered to make positive lifestyle choices, and to feel bold, strong and full of energy. Ultimately, self-confidence and enduring relationships have been the result with a motivation for life that is far greater! It has been amazing how the simple act of “learning to ride” turns into so much more!

What are your top three tips for children playing sport?

  1. Do it for fun! In the first instance, all that is required is to simply enjoy riding a bike (or whatever sport) and it can all develop from there.
  2. Don’t get too serious too early on. Sadly, I see so many kids that get burnt out because of over training and they lose the fun and the reason why they took up the sport in the first place.
  3. Teaching a child to cycle empowers them and gives them freedom, independence and adventure. Giving your child the skill of being able to ride is giving them a skill for life. In fact, riding a bike has often been cited as one of the universal skills for life, along with reading and swimming. Riding a bike is a fun activity that everyone in the family can enjoy and a great way to explore the local community. Through the bicycle, a child’s world is opened up to a world of possibilities, fun and enjoyment!

You can find out more about Sara by visiting her website.

The Commonwealth Games will be held on the Gold Coast from 4-15 April 2018.

Want to be part of the Sporting Schools’ Let’s Ride program? To find out more about Cycling Australia – visit

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