Nathalie Lawlor

Discipline: BMX, Volunteer,
Gender: Female
Date of Birth:
Lives: Ratoath, Co. Meath
Team: Ratoath BMX

Nathalie LawlorOne word comes to the forefront when Nathalie Lawlor is discussing the BMX scene in Ireland: family, “the whole BMX community is all family… it was always a family orientated sport and it still is” she believes. With this in mind, it’s fitting that Lawlor first became involved with BMX through her “cycling fanatic” son “what really attracted me in the beginning was that my eldest son was going through a hard time in school, he’s dyslexic and has ADD” explains Lawlor, “He went down to the track and just pedalled and pedalled and pedalled, it just totally took over his life. It brought him to a different level, and gave him confidence. I don’t know was it BMX or just bikes, but it changed him”.

Lawlor started volunteering for Ratoath BMX club in Meath seven years ago by helping to raise funds to build their track, and has remained heavily involved to this day. She fell in love with BMX because she feels it’s unique and different to any other sport “with Gaelic Football, my son might go two or three times a week and then he might have a match at the weekend. You would be at the sideline looking at the match supporting with the other parents, but then you’re gone. You don’t see them again until the following week. Down at the track it’s totally different. You’re helping out, you’re taking bikes out of cars, and you’re talking to other parents, everyone became friends with everyone”.

As Lawlor also mentions, she has made countless new friends thanks to the sport, which has now become an intrinsic part of her life “I’ve been to places I’ve never been and I have friends in places I never had. So it just became part of our family, the sport itself became part of the family”.

From her involvement with Ratoath BMX, Nathalie has since become a key figure in Irish BMX being the Race Director for the BMX National series. Ratoath BMX was the first club set up in Ireland since BMX stopped back in the 1980s, and it also had the first outdoor BMX track in the country. Therefore, it was hardly a shock that other new clubs would have looked to someone like Lawlor for assistance. “It just so happened that when the next track opened, they were inexperienced and we said ‘we’ll give you a dig out’, so there was myself and a few others from Ratoath, and we used to go the new track in Lucan to help out over there. This was just as BMX Ireland was getting bigger and the sport was spreading around the country. I had more experience than other parents, so I was trying to show the new parents how we did things in Ratoath.” she explains.

In her role as Race Director, Lawlor has a number of responsibilities. One of her key jobs involves ensuring the BMX racing calendar is in line with the Cycling Ireland calendar, so that there is no clashes between events. Naturally, she has to work extremely closely with all the clubs “making sure they have ticked off all the boxes” as she describes it. Some of these boxes that need ticking include making sure parents are Garda vetted, everybody gets a first aid certificate and each club has a child protection officer in place.

Then, when it comes to running events, Lawlor has to be always on hand to help everything run smoothly by doings things such as getting volunteers, setting up registration, and organising an ambulance to be at the venue. Throughout the years, the Meath woman feels they have improved at this, “it just seems to be running smoother and smoother, like this year now we’re after running nine races, an All-Ireland Championships and we went to France (to the European Championships), and we had no issues no problems whatsoever”.

Lawlor is well aware that it is vital that she can be pass on her knowledge to other clubs to help them act independently, because she won’t always be able to offer a hand “Clubs have to learn themselves…you have to know that if something happened and god forbid I couldn’t make it down, and do the role I was supposed to do that it’s OK. You have to be able to be confident enough to know that somebody down there can do that role for you”.

One of the main difficulties Lawlor and her team can run into whilst organising a race can be the weather, and they’re constantly trying to minimise the effects that bad weather can have on an event “if we’re expecting high winds, we’d start earlier or start later. You know because the health and safety of all the riders is paramount”.

Another common issue Lawlor often faces in her position is ensuring that new volunteers at clubs know what they’re doing and are aware of their responsibilities. Of course, she was also quick to point out that the sport is always looking for new volunteers and believes anyone who does help will not regret it “If you have an hour of your time, give an hour of your time, you get it back tenfold. It is well rewarding”.

Overall, Nathalie is very happy with the progress that has been made during her time in the sport. There are now five tracks around the country with more tracks set to come on board, and there are more kids and clubs participating than ever before. BMX is certainly a sport that is going in the right direction in Ireland. At the elite level, a number of Irish kids are going abroad to compete in the UK, and there is now even a number of high performance teams at both senior and junior level.

This year also saw the first ever BMX All Ireland Championships held in Northern Ireland in Lisburn BMX club, as well as the first ever BMX Ireland standalone awards event “we had 230 people turn up on the day which kind really blew us away because it was our first time to do something like this, and it was a massive success” remembers Lawlor. Finally, as already referred to, BMX Ireland sent a contingent of over 30 riders to France for the European Championships. “
This year I kind of felt like we’re actually getting somewhere now” Lawlor said of 2017.

However, there is still a long way to go in terms of promoting the sport in Ireland, “a lot of people don’t know enough about BMX yet” admits Lawlor “it’s still very much a minority sport, If we got it promoted properly and better, you could show kids basic bike skills. Then if they wanted to get into downhill or into road racing which has happened before, for example Killian Callaghan who’s the under 21 World Champion in Enduro started off with BMX in our club”.

In an effort to increase the sport’s publicity Nathalie has said they are trying to constantly to bring in small incentives such as giving half price membership to members who bring a friend to a club with them “start small and aim to keep building and building” believes Lawlor. More pump tracks are also being built around Ireland and Lawlor suggests that these tracks can provide the perfect location for beginner kids to hone their biking skills.

As she saw with her own son, Nathalie Lawlor has seen several children undergo transformations down at the track after becoming obsessed by BMX “it gives them that confidence whether you’re on a BMX or you’re on a little street bike that you go to school on.
You can come in on the bike you go to school on, we get you around the track and we hope to give you the confidence and the skills, and then build on them”. BMX is still a minority sport in Ireland, but with people like Lawlor helping youngsters to fall in love with the sport, that may start to change in the not too distant future.

By Graham Gillespie

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