Tales from the peloton, February 17, 2006
Life after 40 heads down a different track
Her description in reports when racing as an elite cyclist was "always Lyn Nixon, mother of two", such was the novelty of a mother with teenage children racing among women considerably younger and unencumbered with family responsibilities. Nixon represented Australia at the highest level, was open road champion and at the same time also managed to raise her family. Now in her mid '40s and "officially empty-nested", she has taken on a somewhat different career trajectory - that of head coach of the cycling program for Malaysia.
Nixon lives in Western Australia and "was in a suit in a corporate marketing job" after retiring as an elite cyclist. At the same time, she was studying coaching and training a women's group in riding skills. Nixon met officials from the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) and suggested they think of using her home city, Perth, as a training base prior to the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
In the lead-up to the Games, the Western Australian capital city has found favour with elite riders from UK nations such as England, Scotland and Wales due its warm, dry weather, relatively light traffic and flat roads. Also, the Western Australia Institute of Sport (WAIS) is very accommodating and helpful to visiting riders, so Nixon suggested the Malaysians may also like to use Perth as a base to prepare. Much to her surprise, the MNCF told her they were sending almost all their national squad to Perth. The then head coach resigned his position, so the MNCF offered the job to Nixon, who was both surprised and delighted to take on the job.
Her first task - and with only several days notice - was to get the Malaysian track riders prepared to enter the Australian National Track Cycling Championships (the Malaysians, as well as riders from the USA, were allowed to compete in the Australian championships). In fact, it is this aspect of cycling in Australia that convinced Nixon she should take the job. "Australian cycling has been really supportive. Martin Barras (Australia's national sprint coach) has been my mentor coach and he's been absolutely brilliant, so helpful.
"I wouldn't have taken on this job without their support," she said.
Among the challenges of taking on the new job, Nixon had to ramp up her ability to speak Bahasa (Malaysia's national language) as well as learn the religious and cultural requirements of the riders.
When arriving in a new Australian city - as was the case with the group attending the nationals in Adelaide - one of her first jobs was to locate the nearest mosque and prayer timetable. "You can't put on a training session during prayer time," she said in all seriousness, and with full respect for her pupils' religion. Not all her cyclists are Muslim, but she said their religion is not an issue, other than accommodating their prayer time. "Oh yes," she said, "they can still be fired-up young riders who can say silly things."
Most of Malaysia's team has come through a talent identification program and they seriously want for real competition when at home. As Nixon explained, all they can mainly do is train, with little racing available. At the Australian nationals, they found themselves competing against world record holders and Olympic champions. But what some riders may have lacked in racing experience, they made up for with enthusiasm and a willingness to 'have a go'.
Perhaps the country's most accomplished track cyclist is sprinter Josiah Ng, who is actually now in Melbourne training alongside Mark French and under the supervision of leading Victorian coach John Beazley. Ng is a regular in finals of the UCI track world cup rounds and is widely respected among sprinters.
There are only two women in the squad, and 20 year-old Uracca Leow Huay Sim managed a gutsy fourth in the women's 25km point score - which included riding with a group that lapped the field - while her team-mate Noor Azian Alias also finished in the points in seventh place. The coaching job is a huge leap for Nixon, a cyclist who at a mature age won national titles and also secured gold, silver and bronze medals at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics (piloting a tandem with Lyn Lepore). But it also showed that at a time when many retired cyclists may have realised their goals in the sport it can continue to throw up many new challenges.