When most of his Marlborough Boys’ College mates were looking at tertiary study closer to home, track cyclist Callum Saunders had his eyes set on the University of Waikato. It was the obvious choice. He’d heard about the Sir Edmund Hillary scholarships, the Avantidrome was down the road in Cambridge and he liked the regional coaching set up.
So Callum and rugby player now All Black Atu Moli decided to come north – an excellent decision Callum says.
First the Hillary Scholarship. “You’re well looked after, supported through your study with a strong emphasis on personal development and learning to realise your potential. It’s special and you end up with a comprehensive tool box to be the best you can be.”
Callum’s always been a cyclist, first mountain biking, then road, before finally settling on the track. He has a clutch of medals from national and international competitions. “But I’ve always known that in sport anything can happen, injury or support structures falling over, funding withdrawn, and your career can be stalled or completely over, so I knew the value of getting a qualification too.” He completed a Bachelor of Management Studies majoring in finance and marketing.
Despite success on the bike, his path to podium finishes hasn’t always been smooth; at times it’s been challenging, but now he’s privileged to be a part of New Zealand’s elite squad, working towards three international events, Covid permitting, that he hasn’t been to before – the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Track Cycling Championships.
“There were times during my uni years that I did question my cycling ambition. I’ve had a back injury to deal with, I’ve had minor heart surgery, and I did enjoy spending time away from the sport, but the pull to cycling has always been too strong.”
In late 2016 Callum decided he’d give it a serious crack on the track, only to find himself dropped from the elite squad a year later. But he didn’t give up, was reselected, and last year he won a gold medal in the keirin at the World Cup meet in Hong Kong, beating reigning Olympic and world champions in the final. He likes being part of a team in a sport that requires both individual and collective effort.
He’s also a bit of a hobby photographer and has a big stockpile of photos that document life on the track.
“I realise that I won’t be cycling competitively forever and I think I’ll be able to put my degree to good use. I grew up in rural Marlborough, I’m a keen cook and I can see myself working somewhere or somehow in food production. I’m interested in that whole idea of paddock to plate -- it’s a special thing to put food on people’s tables and I’d like to be a part of that,” he says.
But right now most of Callum’s days are spent at the track chasing splits, times and power numbers, hoping that the Olympics will go ahead in 2021 and other international meets will follow, and where he can again test himself against the best in the world.