R U OK? Day - Handling life’s big changes with Sarah Dally

For South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) cyclist Sarah Dally, her pathway to becoming a high-performance athlete is more unconventional than most.

Sarah Dally on the bike

Remarkably, Sarah’s cycling journey began by accident in year 10 when SASI travelled to her high school in Mount Gambier to conduct a Talent Search testing session.

She had no plans to participate in the testing, but some good fortune kicked off her career in the sport.

“I wasn’t actually meant to do the testing,” Dally said.

“I just happened to be in the gym at the time and my teacher asked me if I wanted to jump on a bike!

“I had to call my mum and get her to drop off a change of clothes so I could do the testing… I jumped on the bike and recorded some solid power data, which [SASI] was really impressed with.”

Sarah was then offered a position in the Limestone Coast Regional Sporting Academy, before being noticed by an Australian cycling coach last year, who suggested she get down to Adelaide more often to do her training leading into the National and Oceania Championships.

Excelling at these respective events, Sarah earned herself equal bronze in the individual pursuit and silver in the team pursuit, along with a SASI qualifying time, and her career picked up significantly from there.

Now living in Adelaide, Sarah has had to adjust to being away from family and friends, which has been a true learning experience at the age of 19.

“Coming here, I was thrilled… in the first couple of months everything was new and exciting, and it was going really well… but the last couple of months have probably been more challenging,” Dally said.

“Everything has settled down, it’s not as new… meeting new people is definitely the biggest challenge, along with living out of home and learning how to fend for myself.

“But at the same time, you learn so much about yourself, what you need, and what’s going to help you perform the best.”

When Sarah is not training, she spends much of her time studying cognitive neuroscience at the University of South Australia, along with working at the Little Heroes Foundation, which aims to raise funds and awareness for children’s physical and mental health.

“At the moment, we are very focused on childhood dementia… it’s a very underfunded but prevalent disease in Australia that actually affects roughly the same number of children as childhood cancer does,” Dally said.

Amid this busy schedule, Sarah tries to allocate pockets of time to her personal hobbies and interests, which, in turn, helps improve the professional aspects of her life.

“I think the biggest thing is remembering to take time out for yourself.

“Athletes are very busy people, and it’s easy to become too focused on your sport and your training… you have to remember that it actually helps your performance if you prioritise time for yourself.”

Sarah emphasises that R U OK? Day provides a forum to check in on loved ones, even if it appears they are fine from the outside.

“Checking in on people is super important… a lot of the time people might be sharing things on social media, and they seem happy, but they aren’t…. and oftentimes you just need to reach out to them,” Dally said.

“I will be checking in on my family and friends back home that I don’t get to speak with too often, along with the athletes and coaches I train with.

“Whether that’s a message, just asking for coffee, or knocking on their door — that connection is critical to me.”

For more information about R U OK? Day, visit www.ruok.org.au