This is my first blog, I’m quite nervous, excited and delighted to share my story as a Paralympic cyclist on the road to Tokyo 2020. Thanks to Homes Partnership Estate Agent for this opportunity and their support!
Maniago, Italy, a beautiful small town at the foot of the Dolomites. And here I am at the world championships. This is what I have been training and working towards since the World Championships last year in South Africa in September. Leading up to this I was training and competed in a few time trials with Eve in Ireland. (I live in the Uk and Eve lives in Ireland and so it’s important to get time together as a part of our preparation) We finished our preparation with a 10 mile time trial on a fast course and we were in good form and smashed our national record beating our personal best by nearly a minute! We were delighted and it gave us a boost of confidence before the World Championships.
Our aim was to retain our World titles by winning the Time Trial and The Road Race, win the double again! This is a huge undertaking and put us under pressure. I didn’t think too much about the bigger picture because this helps to prevent the pressure building up too early, though I knew that we were the ones to beat and everyone had expectations of us. Some athletes struggle to cope with this pressure. We were positive when talking to others that we were aiming to get the Double Gold again and wouldn’t be happy with anything less. I always focus on the process, the preparation, the hard work, my nutrition, adequate rest, the things that I can control. To know on the start line that I have done all I can up to that point; then all I have to do is give my all in the race, that is the great part, the easy part after the hours and hours of training. It is hard to become the champions of the world but to repeat it the following year is even harder. It’s easy to take your foot of the pedal and relax after winning such big competitions but you’ve got to carry on working hard and not become complacent.
I like the pressure of a big competition as it helps me to focus but that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous, I do! Especially on the day of the race from waking up to starting the warm up, (we cycle on the bike for about an hour to warm up before each race). Feeling nervous is a positive thing, it shows how important the race is to me and helps the adrenalin to kick in.
Whilst warming up and waiting for the race to start I felt a huge wave of belief surge through me. Eve and I always share a few words of encouragement and advice at this point. It’s great being in a team, sharing the low and hight times, talking through things out loud with someone who is sharing the same experience. I wasn’t going to let anyone beat us and neither was Eve! We feed off each other driving each other on. We may have different personalities, but we are very similar in our approach to training, our fighting spirit in racing and our stubbornness! During the race when you are hurting and your chest is so tight that you can hardly breath, it is all about fighting for that win and I know that Eve is doing her best and giving her all and she knows I am doing the same. We don’t want to let each other down.
The race of truth. No-one to tuck in behind (draft) just you the bike and your thumping heart, Oh! And the clock ticking… each bike setting off at exactly 1 minute intervals.
We knew Great Britain would be our biggest threat, there would only be seconds in it. Last time we raced G.B at the World Cup in Belgium in May they beat us by 33 seconds. Here in Maniago we raced 2 laps of a 13.6 km course that had everything, technicals (tight corners) cobbles, mountain hills and long open roads). We loved it and couldn’t wait to get racing on it. We were the last bike off out of a field of 14 bikes with the Belgiums 1 minute before us and G.B 2 minutes before us. We had a long day of waiting as we were off the start ramp at 5.18pm. Trying to stay relaxed and not use up nervous energy is important and difficult knowing that later I would be in a world of pain and glad when it was all over, but I’ve got so much experience at this stage of my career and this is when it comes to the forefront – on the biggest stage!
We set off in blistering heat of 33 degrees. Starting well hydrated is crucial and not just before the race but for the week leading up to the race. As we completed the first lap of the 13.6 km we found that we were 10 seconds behind and in this situation you can drop your head and give in to the pain or go for it. We could hear our family cheering us from the sidelines and really got into our stride in the second lap settling in and riding steady and consistently. I knew that the race would be won or lost on the second lap. Over this distance especially in the heat pacing is important, if you go off too hard you will pay for it later. When all our systems are under huge stress and we are full of pain our strength and endurance training come to the fore.
With 3 km to the finish we heard we were 5 seconds ahead. My chest was tightening and I could hardly breathe and my legs were screaming and every second and pedal stroke counts and it isn’t over until we cross that line! Once stopped and with legs not able to hold us up, we sat on the ground exhausted and breathing hard as our family came running up and my Mother told us we had won. WE DID IT! I was bursting with joy and relief to find out. We were absolutely delighted to discover we had continued to push ahead and won by 17 seconds. Lots of hugs with the members of the squad and our families, photos, and standing on top of the podium hearing the national anthem and standing next to Eve knowing we are the best team in the world is the most incredible feeling, a special moment we share that so few others in the world ever get to experience.
Two days later we lined our bikes up for the start of the road race, 6 laps of the same 13.6 km course in 30 degrees in slight cloud. We all started off together with a fierce pace set by Great Britain that strung out the bikes early on in the race. With about 9 bikes together at the front we took the lead and pushed to keep the pressure on. By the 3rd lap there were 5 bikes at the front, Great Britain, Poland, Ireland and two New Zealand bikes. Eve noticed that some bikes were struggling and we knew it was time to make our move, we had planned to go on the fourth lap and that is what we did. It wasn’t a full blown attack but a steady push that created a gap and split them apart behind us. Poland managed to bridge the gap and sat on our wheel until the climb when they went in front. However by maintaining our pace up the hill we came alongside and then started to pass them, I saw a gap and shouted to Eve so we drove on increasing the power and the gap opened up as we put our heads down and committed to the push, after a while we checked back and couldn’t see them but we kept pushing on not easing up for the remaining 2 and half laps coming in strong to the line and won by over 2 and a half minutes ahead of Great Britain.
During the race my arms and hands ached from gripping the handle bars, I gasped for air with my heart thumping, my legs were on fire and waves of pain were running through my body, but with my head full of self belief and adrenalin pumping through me I was able to push through it all.
Another glorious medal ceremony , I am so proud of what we have both achieved; To become World Champion and own a coveted rainbow jersey was a dream come true and what I have been aiming towards for years. I couldn’t have imagined that I would become a double, double World Champion! Onward and upwards towards Tokyo 2020, I will enjoy this success for a while first though!
I hope you enjoyed this very long blog! Sorry! But it was a very special occasion!