St Kilda Cycling Club shares the secret to producing Olympic and Paralympic champions

© Provided by ABC NEWS Paralympic champion Carol Cooke with St Kilda Cycling Club riders. (Supplied: St Kilda Cycling Club)

What do Paralympic and Olympic cycling champions Carol Cooke, Emily Petricola, Grace Brown and Kelland O’Brien all have in common?

They’re members of the St Kilda Cycling Club in Melbourne’s south-east.

And they’re not alone. Other former members include Tokyo 2020 Paralympians Stuart Tripp and Paige Greco, and former Olympians Matthew Lloyd, Grant Rice and Tracey Gaudry.

Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Carol Cooke, who won a silver in Tokyo, said the community club gave her opportunities others would not. 

“I was part of another club that looked upon me as too hard to include,” she said.

“I wasn’t allowed to race with the women, instead I was made to ride with the junior riders between nine to 12 years of age.”

That all changed when she joined the St Kilda club, where she has continued to ride and coach.

“No matter what type of bike you are on, they make you feel just like everyone else.”

Inclusive from the start

Vice-president Allison Raaymakers said she was excited about the St Kilda Cycling Club’s four-medal haul from Tokyo, and credited the success on the culture created by its few hundred members.

“The thing that we focus on particularly is being really diverse and inclusive club, and actually making an effort to give people a reason to ride,” she told Raf Epstein on ABC Radio Melbourne.

“The more people we can get cycling, the greater the likelihood someone will filter through and achieve the mastery level of cycling.”

The relatively young club has been a trailblazer in a few ways – they were one of the first to offer women a specific racing grade in the late 2000s, and allowed para-cyclists ride alongside everyone else.

She said this culture was embedded in the club’s foundations.

The club was formed 22 years ago when members broke away from existing clubs to create a more relaxed and inclusive environment.

While that has not stopped members from going on to ride professionally, she said the club loved hosting rides where they would stop off at all the best cannoli places around Melbourne, or lounge on beanbags after a race.

“We pride ourselves on being a strong social club as well as having a racing tradition,” she said.

Leaders in equality

AusCycling’s commercial, clubs and community executive manager Agostino Giramondo said the international achievements of St Kilda Cycling Club members reflected the culture they had developed.

He said the culture was similar to other successful cycling clubs, such as Brunswick in Melbourne’s north and Port Adelaide in South Australia, which had also seen their members perform well in the Olympics, Paralympics and other international championships.

“Some people think the success of the club is how many champions it produces, but I think that’s an outcome of good environments,” he said.

Out of the 450 clubs around Australia, he said St Kilda was one of the leaders in being inclusive for people of all ages, genders and abilities.

But he said international success for clubs often “ebbed and flowed”, with clubs across the country also having different focuses, whether it be on particular age groups or types of cycling.

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