Mary Wanhill might have seemed only one of dozens of talented women racing at the 2015 NZ Veterans' and Women's Motocross Championships in Taranaki last week.
But 32-year-old Wanhill -- formerly 'Scary Mary' Perkins of Crusty Demons -- was celebrating her first competitive outing since shaking off cancer.
Riding a Suzuki RM-Z250 with No159 plate -- which signified her women's 159ft (48.4m) world record leap, a record that still stands -- Wanhill looked right at home as she mixed it up with the frontrunners.
"It has been about 10 years since I was a regular competitor at motocross events," she said. "It has been 13 months since I was diagnosed with cancer and now it's in remission. It's about four months since I finished my radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
"It's not so much a comeback to the sport that I'm celebrating here, but the fact that I've kicked cancer in the butt."
She finished the championships as the national No4.
"My expectations have always been high, but I am pretty happy with how I rode at this event," said Wanhill, who continued as the Encounter Christian Race Team manager during her treatment.
Photo / Andy McGechan
Champion Letitia Alabaster (Pahiatua, Honda) had a huge battle fending off runner-up Katie Silcock (Motueka, Yamaha), former champ Sarah Elwin (Tauranga, Yamaha) and Wanhill.
With just one race remaining, there was virtually nothing to separate Alabaster from Silcock and, with rain and wind getting stronger by the minute, anything could happen.
When another rider collided into Silcock's rear wheel and she crashed early in the race, it gave the lead to Alabaster.
Although Silcock managed to fight back through the traffic, she ran out of time before the chequered flag came out and had to settle for runner-up in that race and also runner-up for the championship.
Elwin took third with Wanhill and Zia Pitkethley (Whangarei, Yamaha) rounding out the top five.
"I just had to do my best and not fall off trying. I took a few risks in the first race on Sunday and managed to win it and that meant I was leading the championship, but only by one point with the final race to come," said Alabaster, a 26-year-old motorcycle mechanic.
"Once I had the lead in the final race, I just played it safe. I'm so stoked to win this. I've been working so hard for it, road cycling, running and riding as much as I could to build up. It's awesome to win."