Mountain biker Jess Blewitt. Photo / NZSki
Mountain biker Jess Blewitt is back on the international racing circuit after recovering from a dramatic accident last year.
Where are you now ?
I am currently in Machynlleth, Wales attending a Red Bull performance camp at Dyfi Bike Park. I also just completed a GT Factory pre-season camp with the team last week in Scotland at Fort William.
You made your way in alpine skiing, what made you switch to mountain biking?
I really enjoyed my years of ski racing with the Queenstown Alpine Ski Team from a young age, but I wasn’t very keen on pursuing FIS racing – and chasing the winters! I tried a bit of Freestyle for a while, but decided it wasn’t really my thing.
I had done some riding in my early childhood years, particularly in Rotorua and Taupo, having first grown up in Mount Maunganui. I was introduced to downhill mountain biking during the 2018 ski off season in Queenstown and was easily hooked. It was an easy transition to transfer some of my skills from ski racing, like speed and balance and choosing the right lines.
And what is the attraction of mountain biking for you?
The adrenaline buzz and creativity you can have!
Do you still ski for fun?
Yes, I always ski for fun and enjoy it.
You had a huge crash at the last World Cup of the year in the United States in September. Tell us what you remember of the accident.
I don’t want to dwell on it too much – these are things that happen in this sport “on the knife edge”. I remember everything that happened.
The road to recovery seems difficult – can you tell us about it?
It was difficult to be in a hospital in the United States without my family being able to join me due to MIQ constraints in New Zealand, but I was lucky to have my team leader with me the first week I was in the hospital. . Then Katie Holden (who is the organizer of Red Bull Formation, where I was riding in May 2021) offered to come and stay with me for the second week. She was amazing, she had a good laugh and she was very supportive of me and I was constantly using FaceTime to communicate with my family back home.
I was flown by air ambulance back to my home in New Zealand two weeks later, and to Christchurch Hospital for a few days before being transferred to MIQ where my mother (a former nurse) joined me for s take care of myself because I couldn’t take care of myself.
The physio started when I entered MIQ with the help of Pete from Remarkable Physios, Queenstown. He sent me a few things to start with, there was a Game Ready system, which provides constant cold compression, and a complex muscle stimulator to help jump-start my quadriceps muscle as well as the exercises that the hospital physio of Christchurch had given me .
The past 7 months have been all about gaining strength/power and getting back into shape – I feel like I’ve been constantly living at the physio and gym but the hard work was worth it to see where I am now.
What was it like to be at MIQ with broken bones
All of my major injuries – the broken collarbone and femur – had been surgically repaired in the hospital in the United States. Mobility was the biggest issue.
Most people who fall off a bike will be a little hesitant to ride fast, and the next time they’re on a bike you’ll hear “yips” after a big crash.
I actually had a big crash last weekend at the British National Race during testing, but I guess you could say it was like ‘getting rid of my back’ so to speak. Didn’t actually compete the next day as I was in too much pain and had to be smart with my driving and listen to how I felt – this race was a bit of a warm up to see what the Fort William track will be like for the Cup crowd there next weekend – so it was okay not to race, just a sensible decision I made.
How did you feel winning the elite women’s title at the national championships earlier this year?
I didn’t really think I was going to be able to make it to this year’s Nationals in March of this year in Christchurch. But Pete (my physio) and Ben (my physical therapist) wanted me to be the “next process” of my mental recovery on a familiar track with my family and friends supporting me.
I entered without any expectation – and won quite comfortably.
You drive with the GT Factory Racing team, how did you get the contract?
I was supposed to go to Europe in 2020 as a junior but due to Covid-19 Cycling NZ wouldn’t enter us in any World Cup races – GT was going to help me with ‘private support’ this year – there but obviously I never got to go.
In 2021, I joined the YD Racing Team. This is a parent-organized team that focuses on developing young people and helping mountain bikers to race without relying on Cycling New Zealand for entries.
For the 2021 season, I first went as a privateer with the help of several New Zealand sponsors. Rod Drury from Xero and Seadon Baker from Illabb and mum and dad’s bank plus help from Queenstown Rotary Club, Skegg Foundation Sothebys Queenstown, Cookie Time Queenstown and HeliBike NZ.
I also got help from New Zealand distributors like Worrels, Marleen’s and Wide Open who helped me provide sponsored material. And Mark from Bike Fix in Queenstown has been my mechanic from the start.
The GT Factory Racing team gave me their support throughout the start of the season in Europe, which ended up being the whole season. In July, GT offered me a contract for 2022 for two years which I had to keep quiet until the announcement in January 2022.
What sports did you play when you were a kid?
I played competitive soccer, netball and field hockey during my school years. I was also a competitive Surf Lifesaver at Omanu Surf Club, Mount Maunganui. I also raced in alpine skiing with QAST for six years.
We are a very athletic family. I have a younger brother who is also a competitive mountain biker and former ski racer. I was very privileged and lucky to have been raised in a family that valued sports and gave my brother and I incredible opportunities.
What are your goals for the coming year?
Having suffered a big injury during my first races, I don’t really have any expectations of myself. Later, I obviously aim for elite women’s podiums.