VALA ambassador: Emma Hawkins
Hey Emma, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I live in the South Wales Afan Valley with my husband Dylan, teenage son Tom and our two cats Hugo and Arthur. Outside of biking I work for Swansea University. Inside of biking I'm a local MTB guide, British Cycling Ride Leader, British Cycling Breeze Leader, co-organiser of the future Sisters of Send Women's MTB Festival and work at my local bike shop the Afan Valley Bike Shed.
What inspired you to get into mountain biking?
I've cycled forever but not so regularly until our son was ready for his first balance-bike. From there it was a natural progression and discovery of just what our locality had to offer in the way of MTB trails and cycling in general. I remember the first time I persuaded Tom to come with me and give our first proper trail a go. The uphills were slow and hard and there was a lot of walking, but that first descent was a revelation. I was hooked!
How long have you been riding for?
It's been around six years or so I guess, gradually taking it more and more seriously until it basically becomes a lifestyle!
What’s your favourite thing about it?
Haha where do I start? The adrenalin rush for sure. The desire to keep pushing boundaries both physically and mentally. The concentration often needed to stay in control absolutely focusses my mind away from anything else in that moment - mindfulness in its purest form I always think. Being outside, in nature, in all seasons and all weather; finishing a ride on a total high and covered head to toe in mud is the best feeling! The people I meet and the friendships I've made are many and precious. The mountain bike community, particularly the women's, is small, friendly, supportive and encouraging. I also help the local trail volunteers with trail maintenance dig days whenever possible; it's good way to 'pay your dirt' and give a little back.
Where’s your favourite place to ride?
I am fortunate to live in one of the premier MTB riding destinations in the UK. My backyard has everything I need to either enjoy a relaxing easy ride or go push my limits and scare myself witless!
What keeps you motivated on days when it seems harder than usual?
Ah that's a good question! Those mornings when it's freezing cold, pouring with rain and my body is complaining 'Nope, not today'. It's so hard to drag myself outside; this my friend, this, is where my riding posse is a gift. I'm far more likely to bail on a planned ride if I'm riding alone, whereas if I've planned to meet others I never bail. When my brain has already prepared to ride in advance (especially when the weather forecast is bad, this is Wales of course), knowing someone else is counting on me and has my back, that's my best motivator to get out there.
Is there a specific athlete in your field that inspires you and what do you admire about them?
There are of course incredible professional mountain bikers that I am in absolute awe of. Athletes such as Rachel Atherton, Tahnee Seagrave, Loic Bruni and Greg Minnaar who constantly push the limits of the sport. As a mountain bike guide however, my inspiration comes from introducing new women to the sport. Seeing them grow in confidence and learn new skills. Watching the joy and exhilaration in their face as they descend their first trail and I know I've hooked another one. Priceless!
Why do you enjoy using VALA?
Quite simply because VALA reminds me of fig-rolls and it's packed with natural food ingredients. It has a pleasant aftertaste and feels like a real treat. VALA fits neatly into my riding bag and I can confidently provide them to clients when they need an energy boost without worrying about hidden allergens. Did you know it's absolutely delicious stirred into your morning porridge or granola too?!
What does ‘natural sports nutrition’ mean to you?
It means actual food. No chemicals, powders or marketing hyped ingredients. Simple, pronounceable nutrition that my nan would recognise. It really isn't rocket science.
What are your top three tips for someone else thinking of getting into your sport?
1. Have fun! We ride bikes to make us smile; if you're not smiling either you're pushing too hard or you need to change riding buddy.
2. Don't worry about what bike you have or what clothes you wear. If your bike works and your clothes are comfortable, get out there!
3. Having an expensive bike won't make you a better rider. Riding your bike will make you a better rider. You are much better off investing your hard earned cash to improve your skills with a professional coach than you are spending it to upgrade your bike.