A former BMX racing world champion said she is “super excited” to qualify for the world championships 36 years after she first retired from the sport.
Sarah-Jane Nichols, 53, from Bramley, Hampshire, came first at the girls over 16s in the world championships in 1987 aged 17, before immediately retiring from the competitive BMX scene.
Ms Nichols told the PA news agency that she had been “suffering” due to the menopause and Covid-19 pandemic and needed a new outlet.
She recently attended some BMX events and got on a bike when she visited a BMX club, which resulted in her becoming “hooked” again and deciding to compete.
She raced in the final rounds of the BMX National Series over the weekend, securing enough points to take her through to the UCI BMX Racing World Championships in North Carolina, in the US, next May.
She said she was “super excited” and “already preparing winter training to get ready”.
Ms Nichols, who works as a housekeeper at a private school, had “no plans” to return to BMX racing until several life changes made it more difficult to play ice hockey, the sport she had enjoyed for more than three decades.
She said: “I hit 50. I hit the menopause and Covid hit and ice hockey became really hard for me. I was really struggling.”
She attended the Santa Cruz Ride Out, a family-orientated BMX gathering, before she was invited to visit Andover BMX Club to “come and talk to the kids”.
She said: “They were like, ‘why don’t you try out one of the new bikes? Here’s a helmet. Have a go at this bike and see if it feels different’, and that was it really.
“It all just came flooding back to me and I was like, actually, this is good fun. I’m enjoying this. I spent the whole evening there just pedalling around.”
As a child she raced motorbikes until one Christmas, aged 11, she went into the living room with her brother on Christmas morning to find two BMX bikes.
She said: “[My parents] took me to Southampton and in my first race I won, so that was it for me. I was hooked straight away because in the motocross I never won.
She became a world champion, as well as a seven-time national champion and four-time European champion.
Ms Nichols said BMX racing was “a craze” in the 1980s and she retired because “the sport was just starting to slow down”.
She said that after returning to BMX racing she was a “lady on a mission”, adding that her training has been a “learning curve” as the sport has changed a lot over the years.
She said: “I learned the hard way to start with because I did have a couple of crashes without any body armour on. I have a big scar on my shoulder now and a lot of skin off my knees.”
More than three decades after retiring, Ms Nichols said she still gets “a real buzz” from racing.