ROTORUA LOCAL and crankworx winner KEEGAN WRIGHT is now sponsored by one of the MTB world’s biggest brands, devinci.
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Positive affirmation. That’s what all downhill mountain bikers need as they prime themselves just before flying down some rugged terrain in the three or four minutes it takes to race. There is no time for fear. There is a phenomenal adrenaline surge. Welcome to the world of Keegan Wright.
The 21-year-old from Rotorua is New Zealand’s best at both the downhill and enduro disciplines of mountain biking. In September last year, he placed 35th at the downhill world champs in Australia. He’s now a full time mountain biker.
Canadian bike firm Devinci have signed him up and by the time you read this, he’ll be off on the World Series tour. Keegan is excited. “It’s absolutely massive, man. Devinci cover costs, travel, accommodation and my bikes. On top of that, you get a mechanic and a masseuse. It will make things so much easier for myself and my family. The hardest thing before was getting the right balance between work and training.”
It’s easy to think of endurance athletes as being born with a superior body, fit for purpose. But Keegan was born with a club foot (talipes). He spent five years in a cast and underwent no less than nine surgeries. He is eternally grateful to the surgeon, but the rest is down to him. Keegan ripped into the sport of BMX, where many of the skills transfer easily enough to downhill MTB (mountain biking), in between being homeschooled. He sports a nose piercing. He carves his own path. His lively optimism rubs off, too. Half an hour talking to this driven young man and you want to jump on a sturdy bike and hit the hills yourself.
“I have a bit of ankle restriction from all the operations, but it hasn’t stopped me doing anything. It shows that you can do anything as long as your mind is set right.” The mind is a powerful tool when you spend as much time (15–20 hours a week) on a bike as Keegan does.
His sport lends itself to intense competition and also reflective, almost peaceful, moments when he is out on one of his favourite trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest. “That’s what I love about the sport. You can get out and get a bit of fresh air or go up for a training ride. It’s just you and your bike. You are not worried about anything else,” he says.
Rotorua and its topography lends itself to mountain biking as much as any other place in the country. No wonder the locals, and plenty of visitors, love to get up into the hills. And there is no place Wright would rather be. “There are so many awesome destinations around New Zealand and the world to go for rides with family and friends. I really like Queenstown and around Christchurch, but you cannot beat coming home to good ol’ Rotorua and going out on the local trails. It’s right on my doorstep and we have some of the best trails,” he says.
Keegan has seen the exponential rise of the sport, particularly as a recreational pursuit, in the last few years. The car parks are packed. “It’s been awesome for Rotorua, and the amount of people it brings on a yearly basis is really good for business. It will only get bigger.”
Races over the summer have been a good training ground for overseas competition, where conditions will vary but the racing will always be hot. He strikes as a laidback character, with his speech punctuated by “for sure” or “awesome”. But those competitive juices are bubbling near the surface. “I don’t think you’d get that sort of kick from any drug — not that I’ve done any — and that’s why I love mountain biking. You get that rush every day and you can’t beat the feeling.”
As for the fear that lurks, he tries to suppress any such doubts. “You almost have to flick your mind off and let your bike and body do it all. It’s all tunnel vision from there.”
That mindset helped during his worst crash, in Dunedin last year. Keegan smashed his cheekbone, dislocated his jaw, broke both his hands and dislocated his left hand. Perhaps slightly recklessly, he was back on his bike a week later, competing at the high profile Crankworx event. Despite duct-taping his hands to the handle bars as they were too sore to otherwise grip, he cracked the quarter-finals before deciding he really probably should stop, and rest for six weeks. I wonder how that rest really looked — the word is, he can’t sit still for longer than five seconds.
He seems relaxed when describing his protective equipment. There is the helmet, of course, and knee pads and goggles. But no gloves or elbow pads (“too restricting”). It’s been some year, winning the 2W Gravity Enduro event in February and the Rotorua Crankworx Pumptrack in his own backyard. But his personal highlights are clear. “Definitely winning the elite national champs for the first time. Then going overseas and racing in some cool places and gaining some good results was awesome.”
Devinci’s sponsorship will make a big difference to cracking the world scene. “For sure. I know I’m getting a lot stronger and more powerful with the training I’m doing. I’m turning into a man, I guess. I’m racing against 30-year-olds who are hitting the endurance peaks of their lives,” Keegan declares.
“Now, it’s all about what you do in the off-season. You can make it happen or just go out and party, but I’ve definitely got my sights set on the top.” Keegan Wright is just starting out on the big-time. Barring injury, and infused with his deep passion, not to mention talent, he’ll go well.