A Kiwi abroad: Buchanan’s incredible journey
It’s never been a question what direction Rushlee Buchanan wanted to head in life, as long as it’s always forward, and always on a bike.
Buchanan was 12 years old when she took on a school project about the 2000 Olympic Games. At the time, she didn’t know what the Olympics were, nor was she an athletic child. Her research revealed sports she’d never heard of, including the intense, mysterious world of track cycling.
“Sarah Ulmer was competing in the individual pursuit and I still remember when she missed out on the bronze medal,” Buchanan recalled. “Now know how hard that was for her, but at the time, I had just seen this cool Kiwi chick race this sweet, crazy looking bike.”
Buchanan was sold. Inspired by Ulmer, she took her dad’s bike out for a short ride in her neighborhood suburb outside Hamilton, New Zealand, fell in love and her passage into the world of cycling was established. Four years later, when many girls are thinking about their school formal, Buchanan was on a plane to get a taste of European racing. At 17, she won silver at the World Junior Track Championships. A year later, lived and trained in Switzerland for three months, all on her own dime.
“I think both my parents thought I was crazy and that it was a passing craze,” Buchanan said.
Since the day she struggled to reach the pedals of her dad’s bike, the four-time national road champion has made cycling her life. Some say sport changes their lives, however that doesn’t apply to Buchanan – it’s all she knows. People ask what she would do if she didn’t fall in love with Sarah Ulmer’s “sweet, crazy looking bike,” but she hasn’t found the answer yet.
“Cycling isn’t who I am, it’s what I do. With anything in life, you make goals, strive to achieve them and then assess. That’s all I’ve focused on – what I can do better right now, in this moment, or this year. I don’t focus on what I could be doing or what I would be doing otherwise, because that’s not productive.”
Despite her dedication to cycling from an early age, Buchanan never stopped working toward her university degree, which she completed back in April. It took her a while to find a subject she was interested in, but eventually decided on a business degree majoring in sports management. The 30-year-old has already enrolled in a Masters program in the same field.
“There’s definitely been some hard times with the study,” she said. “I have sat exams in some very interesting places. I’ve had to study between stages, on planes and in cars, but it’s all worth it. New Zealand high performance athletes are supported by the government. It’s such a great program. I am very grateful to be a Kiwi and be given opportunities like this.”
Buchanan’s continued pursuit of education has coaxed her attention toward something near and dear to her heart – helping young cyclists find their way in the sport, which is something she had to navigate on her own.
“There’s a big gap between high school and professional sport in New Zealand,” she said. “I want to use my knowledge to work in this area. I remember when I was navigating my own way from high school and a very structured, supported environment to professional sport and living solo overseas as a junior. Of course, there’s a lot you don’t know. I feel like I can help by simply sharing my stories or being a support role to younger athletes.”
It may Buchanan’s tenacity that keeps her driven, but it’s also her teammates, family and friends. Buchanan met her future husband, Adrian Hegyvary, in the middle of her career. An accomplished cyclist in his own right, she describes Hegyvary as smart, well-rounded and her grounding source. When they met, he was a student at the University of Washington and encouraged her pursuit of education and cycling career.
When Buchanan got the call to ride on UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling’s first women’s team in 2014, Hegyvary was already part of the program – a perfect fit.
“Adrian is my rock. Having him means I always have someone to lean on. It’s been good having our own goals, you learn to share time and energy. You see how selfish you were in a previous time, but didn’t realize because you were so focused. That’s the beauty of it, you let each other be like that when needed. Then you tell them to put out the trash because the world still revolves. We support each other through each of our ups and downs. Investing in someone else’s sporting career and wanting them to do well, while also trying to be at your own peak has challenges, but I really enjoy the journey we have together as we each chase our dreams.”
It wasn’t a hard choice for Buchanan to base her career around the US racing scene. With the support of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, she was allowed to pursue her track aspirations in New Zealand while racing in an environment in which she felt most comfortable.
“I’d rather live in a neat American town where I can speak the language, read menus and have amazing training roads. Everyone has their home and their comfort zones, so I chose to locate myself in Asheville, North Carolina with family and friends and it means I can focus all of my energy on training and racing.”
At just 30 years old, Buchanan has already become a veteran in her sport, owning much of her success to her love of track cycling and UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling’s support of her personal goals. A selfless teammate on the road, she pays back that support in dividends when it comes to her road team. But track racing remains her ultimate goal, and UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling has been supportive from day one.
“The team is understanding of my national team and track commitments. They’re realistic in the racing we do, we pick races that suit us and we focus on quality not quantity. Track is in my roots. The whole environment is different, from training to racing. The combo of the two has also allowed me to continue so long, I don’t get sick of one and can use each to strengthen the other one. Obviously, I have to be picky about what I do for both, but when you can choose the races suited to you they both go hand in hand well.”