Sixteen-year-old Meghan Rutledge is shaping as the next big thing in world motocross. With a swag of junior state and national accolades to her name, the teen hailing from Picton in New South Wales is at the pointy end of the domestic scene. Now, "Mad Meg" is beginning to explore racing avenues outside Australian shores. Her success has culminated this week with a nomination in The Deadly Awards, which recognise the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to their community and to Australian society. For details on how to vote for Meg, read on!
People often perceive childhood as being a determining factor in the choices and directions selected through life. Meghan Rutledge's upbringing took a considerable change in direction when she was eight years old.
"It just suddenly clicked," she reminisces, referring to her groundbreaking win in the 2004 NSW state motocross titles - against a grid of boys. "I was racing in the seven to nine years 65cc class and I had just discovered that I won the title and I thought 'I want to do this'. It really just sparked it."
Meghan with her horse Roco.
Joining the dirt bike fraternity as a four-year-old, Meghan quickly learned the benefits of hard work and persistence, becoming the first girl in Australia to win a state sanctioned motocross title for both sexes. But things didn't slow down there; the accolade was like a euphoric teaser to the young rider. Buoyed by the presence of her older sisters Danielle and Nicole in racing circles, as well as the empowering 65cc title, Meg embarked on a quest to continue pushing past conventional boundaries.
"I've always preferred to race the boys rather than the girls, it gives me more of an opportunity to push myself," she insists. "There's more pit talk with the girls than there is with the boys anyway. The guys never used to accept me but because I've been around for so long now, they just see me as another competitor. I get a lot of surprise looks when I pull my helmet off, I really love the reaction. It gives me more confidence and reassures me of my ability."
Highly regarded among Australia's close-knit network of riders, Meg is now considered a regular in any supercross or motocross paddock. She cut a lone female figure in last year's Super X championship, finishing 12th overall in the Under 16s series - the highest placing for a rider that didn't compete at every round.
Away from the bike, Meg is a typical bubbly teen, albeit distinctly different in appearance from the hair-platted, nylon-clad version. The time that is spent away from bikes is usually dedicated to her horse, Roco, and then there's the demanding training roster, which manages to fill just about every other empty space during the week. School's still a pressing commitment too, with the all-important HSC looming next year.
An opportunity to spend some time with Meg and her parents Grant and Dale recently proved there's no limitation to what this confident young woman believes she can achieve. And according to those that know her best, she owes it all to herself.
"I want to become a female world champion, and to do that I've got to get over to Europe and America," Meg declared. "I would like to one day race in the men's division of the AMA as well, because no other girl has ever done it."
"If you don't win, it's just not as fun"
While Meg went about ravaging a motocross track during the visit, Dale alluded to the quintessential feature behind her daughter's inspiring rise. "Meghan has always been extremely competitive, always," she says. "Even away from the bike, you see it. If you went to do something basic with her like jump on a trampoline, she'll do everything she can to pull a better trick than you - and she won't give up unless you give in."
Meg pushes the boundaries in everything she does, which explains why Grant or Dale are never the ones initiating practice or training. As Dale tells me, it's in their best interest to take Meg riding; otherwise the entire family will not hear the end of it.
"I like pushing until I win," Meg explains. "If you don't win, it's just not as fun."
The Master Coach
Meg's boundless enthusiasm and persistence has undoubtedly developed from one of her more noteworthy associations: with the Moss clan. Greg Moss, father of multiple Australian champion twins Matt and Jake, is perceived by Meg as a second father, while the factory-signed siblings are regarded as her closely-aligned brothers.
"For our family, it has always been a matter of ensuring that if any of the girls were going to compete in the sport, they would compete in it properly and always be safe," Dale says. "And with (older sisters) Danielle and Nicole already doing schools with Greg early on, Meghan began drills from the time she was about four years old."
As Meg remembers it, her first experiences on a motocross track entailed brief introductory lessons with Greg, followed by siestas under any nearby tree. Now a regular assistant at the heralded Moss Institute schools, Meg is also viewed by the entire family as one of the gang. "Our family sees her as Matt and Jake's sister, she's grown on us simply because of her enthusiasm and belief in us," Greg says. "We do call her part of the family because she's just like Matt and Jake, she's out to do as good as she can get."
But Greg's praise extends well beyond any of Meg's personal traits. Busy with a fulltime roster of nurturing and training some of our biggest domestic and international names, he's adamant that Meg possesses the special qualities needed to take it all the way.
"I've coached for a long time and she's the toughest and most competitive rider I've ever met, and that includes my boys," he says. "I think anything is possible for her; you wouldn't consider the world champion title out of her league, that's for sure."
Three years ago at a coaching clinic for Pro Open, Pro Lites and Under 19 national riders, Meg began showcasing elements of her future potential - to Greg, it was confirmation.
"I invited Meg along as a 13-year-old girl and out of all those Pro Open, Pro Lites and Under 19 national riders, she was the only person to complete every exercise," he says. "She certainly didn't start out as a natural rider, she's done it all with hard work and dedication."
"There's more there in determination than there is skill, she's had to learn to do everything and nothing came naturally to her straight away. I have full respect for her because of the effort she puts in, that's just the person she is."
"The coaching has also been in developing the person and how they promote themselves: she's a lovely girl when she's away from the bike and she's a competitor when she's on it. I think there's a competitive nature in everything she does."
Meg is also a regular willing participant in one of Mossy's mantras for bike strength and stamina: wrestling. "You should see the smile on the face when she beats me, I try to make sure it's not too often," Greg jokes. "The other guys don't hold back either; they don't want to get beaten by a girl, but it still happens."
The Sales Pitch
Much more than the sorely referred-to combination of marketing rhetoric and pretty looks, Meghan's incredible ability is now garnering interest from some of the industry's biggest suppliers. Among them, Fox has taken her on as one of their more serious female racers, while a stack of other sponsors - many coming on board in recent months - are beginning to invest in what could develop into a global empire.
The next few months will be important time for the promising young racer. On top of myriad domestic commitments, she is now beginning to explore avenues of racing outside of Australia.
According to Greg, Europe is the biggest opportunity for someone of Meg's calibre. "We would love to get her over on a team in the FIM and we've got contacts over there that we're working with at the moment," he says.
"Hopefully she'll get to represent Australia in the world championships and get to fulfil her goals. She'd love to do it, without a doubt.
There are also rumours circulating in the industry that the AMA will field a women's class in the 2012 Supercross season, which is another exciting prospect for aspiring riders, especially Meg. She was recently awarded her first senior NSW Women's Title, having dominated every race she completed. At the third and final round of the series at Nowra, she managed to lap the entire field up until fourth place in one of the races.
With a glittering trail of success behind her - much of that unorthodox given the traditional demographic of the sport - trailblazing is becoming an increasingly worthy trait in Meg's arsenal of tricks. She understands more than anyone that her approach to-date will be a crucial foundation in the next phase of her career. If the past 12 years are anything to go by, watch this space.
To support Meghan in the Deadly Awards Female Sportsperson of the Year, visit http://www.vibe.com.au/deadlys and post your vote before Saturday September 10.