Far North Flash are brightening the streets of Masterton in preparation for the Vantage Age Group Road National Championships. PHOTO/ELISA VORSTER

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

A Kaitaia teacher passionate about equal opportunities for children from all walks of life is in Masterton with his 10-strong cycling team, Far North Flash.

The group – hard to miss in their fluoro pink lycra suits, helmets and bikes – are in Wairarapa to compete in the three-day Vantage Age Group Road National Championships, which started on Friday.

Phil Gibbs, a Year 3 and 4 teacher, and cycling coach, used his own money to buy his team’s road bikes and volunteers about two hours of his time, at least five-days a week, training the group after picking the pupils up from their various schools.

“They come from underprivileged and financially challenged homes, and cycling has given them a focus other than hanging out on the streets.”

Masterton is hosting Kaitaia cycling group, Far North Flash. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Far North Flash riders range from 10 to 15, with all but two from Kaitaia.

Some are past pupils of Mr Gibbs, but not all of them.

Mr Gibbs said it was rare to have a cycling team primarily made up of Maori and Pacific islands riders. He was immensely proud of them.

They compete in about seven races nationally per year, and some of the girls were ranked in the top 10 of their age groups.

When asked whether they were pushed hard by their coach, the team yelled, “Yes”.

Most of the team cycled 100km in Taupo last week.

Mr Gibbs said handling a group of teenage girls [there’s only one male in the team] came with its challenges, but it was worth it.

It was heartening to watch them transform and recognise they were “beautiful people” and “talented athletes”.

He started recruiting the team about three years ago, after discovering his passion for coaching through training a friend’s daughter.

Phil Gibbs, Far North Flash coach, with his team’s bikes. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Much of the team’s activities were self-funded by Mr Gibbs, who was helped out by the odd donation.

The uniform used to be blue, but two girls talked him into changing it to pink a few years ago, and he’s never looked back.

“People are always telling us we have the best kit,” Mr Gibbs said.

“We’re known from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island as the Marshmallows.”

He said the team’s trip to Wairarapa would not have been possible without the goodwill of Masterton District Council, and local businesses and individuals.

“It’s been awesome how we’ve been embraced here by the community.”

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the town had taken the team “under its wing”.

Far North Flash has been put up in UCOL’s Whakaoriori Marae.

The team had been shouted a trip to Pukaha Mt Bruce, given tickets to Regent 3 Cinemas, been taken to the Trust House Recreation Centre, and had received vouchers for various eateries.

Far North Flash were competing in the time trials on Friday, and a road race on Saturday.