2019 double All Africa Games gold medallist, Tiffany Keep, is only 19 years old, but if her early success is anything to go by, she is destined for greater things in cycling.
Her memorable debut, winning the Herald Continental Cycle Tour, was an early indication of her incredible talent, which could see her go on to become SA’s next best cyclist.
The Varsity College student has had her fair share of highs and lows over the past year as she competed in World Championships and suffered a knee injury after a heavy crash on the road, which then took a while to recover from an intensive rehab to get strength back in her left leg.
She has embraced the challenges that have come her way, saying that it has made her appreciate life and trust the process and path that she is meant to take in her career.
Keep has a passion for cycling and mountain biking and says that both play an important part in her life.
Apart from having a love for sport, Keep is determined to find another career out of industry as she would like her academic and sporting interests separate.
She regards riders Ashley Moolman-Pasio, Jenny Rissveds, Kate Courtney, and Yolanda Neff as her idols and hopes to follow in their footsteps to pave the way for future generations.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Keep chats about being introduced to mountain biking by her father and shares some of the lessons she has learnt to encourage other young sportswomen.
Tiffany, welcome to gsport. Please introduce yourself and tell us more about you.
Hi there! My name is Tiffany Keep, I’m 19 years old from Durban, South Africa, and I am a cyclist.
How has the Covid-19 lockdown impacted you and how are you managing this time?
So, during lockdown, I am fortunate that I have an indoor trainer at home. And I was able to continue training on that and actually competing on a, on an online platform called Zwift, where I did all my training as well as a bit of Zwift racing and I was actually able to ride with other people from across the world as well, which was really awesome and it helps keep the social aspect up in the riding even though I wasn’t actually allowed to ride with anyone else in real life and still obeying the social distancing laws. So that was pretty cool.
How did you fall in love with Mountain Biking?
“When you ride a bike, you see the world from a new perspective entirely. And I think that’s what I really loved about the sport and being one with nature outside in the forests. That was probably my favourite part.” – South African professional racing cyclist, Tiffany Keep
Mountain Biking was actually the first discipline that I started in the cycling world. My dad actually introduced me to the sport when I was only three years old. And so, this was the first discipline I kind of branched into. And I think that it is, it’s pretty much my roots in the sport and will always be, and I just really loved the opportunity to go see new places which you’re not able to go to necessarily in a car and just explore new regions and see things from a totally different perspective. When you ride a bike, you see the world from a new perspective entirely. And I think that’s what I really loved about the sport and being one with nature outside in the forests. That was probably my favourite part.
Growing up what was your childhood like?
I would say I was very fortunate to have the childhood I did have. My parents always supported me 100 percent in whichever dreams I wanted to pursue. And so, this means that my dad was always willing to come and cycle with me and come with me on training rides and was always willing to support me at races, as well as my mom. And I think that having a supportive family structure like that was really important for me and really allowed me to pursue my dreams that I wanted to pursue and do so wholeheartedly.
What have been your career highlights to date?
So, my career highlights today would probably be representing South Africa at World Championships for the past three years, twice in the mountain bike and once on the road last year, as well as winning two gold medals for my country and African Games last year. I think that was a very proud moment for me and one, which is definitely a standout moment in my career thus far.
What were you looking forward to achieving this year before the Covid-19 pandemic cancelled all sporting events?
I was hoping to go to World Championships once again, whether it be on the road or a mountain bike, that’s this still might happen this season, so be holding thumbs that it will! And, basically, I’ll be working towards those two or those events and hopefully that we will get an opportunity to compete at these events during the season still.
And so, yeah, I think that I was hoping to also go race overseas and just gain a bit more experience on the road, still competing in both road and mountain biking. So, I wouldn’t say that I’m choosing one over the other at this stage, I still enjoy the fact that I can do both and I will continue to do both until it comes to a point where I have to make a decision. But I still think that both road and mountain biking will be two disciplines which will be a part of my life. When I choose one or the other, I will still be able to do the other in some smaller forms, maybe less racing, but I will always, always, be able to ride and enjoy being outside with my bike no matter what bike it is.
What are some of the lessons you have learnt along the way in your career so far?
Some of the lessons I’ve learned, cycling has been an integral part of my life and it’s also a sport which teaches you so much about yourself because it takes such commitment from the athlete and determination and self-motivation. And, I think these are all things which I have learned through the sport, being disciplined, and really being committed to a goal and writing down a goal on a piece of paper and saying, “I would like to achieve this…” And, this can work throughout anything in life. I think committing to a goal is something that everyone needs to learn to do because discipline and motivation all play a part in achieving this goal and there’s no better feeling in the world than achieving a goal that you’ve written down and you’ve worked so hard to achieve. So, I think that in this way cycling has taught me this.
“Trust the course that life has given you and do your best and give your 100 percent in every situation, also to take opportunities when they arise and grab them with both hands and really pursue them 100 percent.” – Keep reveals the lessons that she has learnt so far in her career.
It’s also to taught me to be patient and trust the process. Trust the course that life has given you and do your best and give your 100 percent in every situation, also to take opportunities when they arise and grab them with both hands and really pursue them 100 percent.
How have you been able to balance education and your sporting career?
In my opinion, there is never such thing as a perfect balance between education and sport. You can try your best to be hundred percent committed to either and I think the people that are able to commit hundred percent to both their academics and their sport, I really admire them. I think it takes a lot of dedication and discipline to do so. But it will never be 100 percent of complete balance, one world will sometimes always outweigh the other in terms of the priorities, and that’s fine. It’s about dealing, learning to deal with the priorities and, and cope with the load which is important. And so, this is something that I really liked throughout school as well as with University at the moment. I’m really glad that I was able to do my best and ultimately. By the time I finished school, I was proud of myself and my efforts in both different worlds. And I think this is a goal that people should aim to achieve because it really is so rewarding.
Do you think that there are enough females participating in mountain biking?
So there has always been a case of having less women competing in cycling than men and this is purely because it is seen as an extreme sport. It’s sometimes unattractive to those people because it is seen as being dangerous, and more dangerous than other sports that they could play, for example, even at school, such as hockey, tennis, netball, etc.
But there’s also the fact that obviously, women weren’t always allowed to be included in sports for many years in history beforehand. And so, this also plays a role in it. I think that in terms of mountain biking, we could definitely have more women competing and we are seeing this, there has been an increase in the amount of ladies competing in the mountain biking circuit, which has been really awesome to see and I would really like to encourage more ladies to do so. What has been really incredible for me, has been to see the increase in the amount of people I’ve seen exercising during lockdown, and I really hope to see some of these people competing at local mountain bike events in the future.
What do you think needs to be done to encourage more young girls to see that a career could be made out of being a professional rider?
In terms of encouraging young girls that they can actually make a career out of professional cycling, I think that it takes someone to actually make it in the cycling world and prove to them and be kind of like an idol for these young girls saying that it is possible. And it’s being proven to be possible constantly on a daily basis by all these women competing on the pro circuit. And it is possible that you can now earn a salary and be able to provide for your family off of the salary and live a good life. And so I think that with our ever changing world, we are now starting to see slightly more equality in terms of the salaries that are given to women and men in the sport, and increasingly getting better by the day.
“It is still not completely equal, but I think it has come a long way since the beginning stages of the sport when women were first allowed to compete. And so I think that convincing young girls that they can do this as a career, versus that sport is a passion for us, and if they really do want to do it as a career, I think that it would be great for the professionals in order to reach out to these younger girls and encourage them to keep going and keep pushing.” – Keep speaks on ways to encourage more young girls to take up riding as a sport.
It is still not completely equal, but I think it has come a long way since the beginning stages of the sport when women were first allowed to compete. And so I think that convincing young girls that they can do this as a career, versus that sport is a passion for us, and if they really do want to do it as a career, I think that it would be great for the professionals in order to reach out to these younger girls and encourage them to keep going and keep pushing because they can actually do this and I think that’s where the pro athletes really need to step up and take the initiative to reach out to the younger generation because ultimately, they are the future of our sport.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in your career so far?
I think the biggest challenge in my career so far will be will have been learning to deal and build up from injury. Injury is inevitable in the sport that we do; it is an extreme sport after all and on two occasions, I had quite severe injuries once in 2016 when I broke my collarbone in March, as well as last year where I had quite a bit of knee injury after I had a heavy crash on the road, which then took a while to recover from an intensive rehab to get my leg strength back in my left leg. And so, both these occasions really taught me the virtue of patience and trusting the process and I think that ultimately, I was glad and went through both these experiences in hindsight, because they taught me so much about myself.
I think that injury is something which sucks in any sport. But it is something that will ultimately help you in the long run, it will teach you so much more about yourself. And so, I think that having overcome these challenges, I’m actually glad I went through them, and I’m a better person because of it.
Which sportswomen inspire you and why?
A few sports women who really inspire me would be Ashley Moolman-Pasio, Jenny Rissveds, Kate Courtney, and Yolanda Neff. All four of these women have one aspect in common, which is that they are all extremely determined and motivated to what they do. They have also all stood up for women in sport or have really promoted the idea of equality in women’s and men’s cycling. And I think their sheer determination and discipline towards working towards their goals has been really inspiring. For riders and those younger than me, these women have all helped pave the way for younger riders in the sport. And for that reason, they are just truly influential and amazing figures to have in the cycling world at the moment.
June is Youth Month and from your experience of being a young sportswoman, what advice would you share with young girls who are looking to make their sporting careers a success?
My advice to any young girl wanting to pursue a career in sport, would just be to enjoy the sport they’re doing no matter what it is. I think that having that enjoyment and having fun, and just being happy in what you’re doing is definitely the first prize and that will turn into passion later on in life. If you continue to pursue it as such, I think that people that force a sport upon themselves, or their parents force it upon them and tell them that they have to do this and they don’t have a choice in the matter, it does not help them in the long run. And I think that the best athletes today still have fun doing what they do and that should always be the first prize. So, taking it too seriously too young is not a good thing. Just enjoy it, have fun because the rest of the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place over time.
What is your greatest sporting ambition?
My greatest sporting ambition would have to be to represent South Africa at the Olympics. I view the Olympics as being the pinnacle of the sport. And so, this has really been a long-time goal of mine, which I would really like to achieve one day and I’m constantly working towards it. I think it would be incredible to just be at the Olympics and soak up the amazing experience which it has to offer. So, yeah, I think that
I’m excited for what the future holds.
Beyond your sporting career, what other career path would you like to take in the future?
So, I’m still in the process of working out what career exactly I would like to do after cycling. Personally, I would like to pursue a career which is not directly involved in the sporting world. I think that for the sake of this, I like to keep my academic interests and my sporting interests separate because I don’t like to be defined just by one thing, which is shocking. I think that me as a person, I still have interests outside of the sport which I would really like to pursue and learn more about these hobbies and passions which I have outside the sport. I would say I would like to run my own business one day, what business that will be at the stage? I do not know. Yes, I’m still in the process of working at art. But I think that the degree I’m doing at the moment is equipping me well for the ever-changing society which we live in. And I’m very excited for what the future holds. There will be careers in future which don’t exist right now, which is very exciting. And yeah, I’m just excited to continue pursuing these passions, both in cycling and out of cycling and seeing what comes out of it.
Thank you very much for having me to do this gsport interview!
Photo 1 Caption: Tiffany Keep, walked away as a double gold medallist at the 2019 All Africa Games and made a memorable debut winning the Herald Continental Cycle Tour, proving that she is on course to becoming the next best cyclist. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: The 19 year old Varsity College student has had her fair share of highs and lows over the past year as she competed in World Championships and suffered a knee injury after a heavy crash on the road, which then took a while to recover from an intensive rehab to get strength back in her left leg. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: She has embraced the challenges that have come her way, saying that it has made her appreciate life and trust the process and path that she is meant to take in her career. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 Caption: Keep has a passion for both cycling and mountain biking and says that both play an important part in her life and she does not see her life without any one of the two disciplines. Photo: Supplied
Photo 5 Caption: Apart from having a love for sport, Keep is determined to find another career out of industry as she would like her academic and sporting interests separate. Photo: Supplied