[Back up, but with some bits taken out, now limited to my cycling story]
Cycling has been in my family for 3 generations now. My Grandad (Mentioned above) was an avid cyclist and one of the stories at my Grandma’s funeral was that of his John O’Groats to Lands End bike ride. (The most Northern point in Britain to the most southern point). He rode the length of the 603 mile ride in 5 days only to realise it was Valentines day in 2 days time and he’d promised my Grandma that he’d dance with her at the military base’s ballroom evening (he’s ex army). He rode the 300 mile ride home in 1 ½ days, riding through the night and made it back about an hour before the ballroom evening started. I could not see a dry eye in the church as this story was told.
My Dad took a more competitive approach to cycling. He was one of the top riders in the country over a ten year period in the mid 80’s to mid 90’s and stopped riding competitively when I was born in 1995. It was only natural, with some encouragement from him, that I would eventually take up cycling myself.
I love the sport for so many reasons that most people can't understand, it gives me a real thrill that I can't come close to recreating with any other activity. The speed, intensity and competitive nature of the sport has had me well and truly hooked since the age of 11. I’d been a footballer as a young kid but I never came close to the sort of thrill I got on the bike.
For the first 4 years of my little 'career' I took the sport fairly seriously, won a few regional events but mostly stuck to my local weekly Track Cycling league. So I was fairly competitive and would train 3 or 4 times a week but wasn't setting the world alight to say the least. I had some trouble at school as well. People didn’t understand what I saw in cycling and I would often get ridiculed about it for this reason. The lycra shorts didn’t help proceedings but hey, I think they’re kind of flattering on my actually :P. I was the only person in my school into competitive cycling and I lived a long drive away from any of my cycling friends so I felt kind of alienated at times. I had very little to no support from my school at all so I really felt like I was on my own with it. Especially when, in January 2011 my Dad, who was my only training partner picked up a shoulder injury that would prevent him from riding a bike for 2 years.
For 6 months I trained alone, blindly, for events that were few and far between, winning on some occasions, failing miserably on others. I had no direction in my approach to training or my life in general in any way. I was lost.
I went on a six day break in July last year to visit my Uncle and something just clicked. I knew I only had 3 weeks to prepare for my first ever national championships and thought I had nothing to lose. From the day I got home to the day of the national championships all I could think about was my target events and how I could train harder than everyone else. For 21 days I went out and did interval sprints until I threw up and went home. (Interval sprints are maximum intensity efforts repeated with short breaks in between).
By the time I got to the national championships I was in the form of my life. I went expecting a top 10 finish in my 2 main events (sprint and 500m time trial) and got second (albeit by just 0.07 seconds) in the 500m time trial and 7th in the sprint. I was totally overwhelmed and felt totally out of place as my nervous demeanour on the podium in every picture taken served to highlight.
I carried on the crazy training programme until my next event the Inter Regional Track Championships (which is pretty much a rerun of the national championships but you compete in regional teams). In the meantime the new national champion was 'living it up' a bit too much. At the Inter regionals I set the record time for GB in 2011 in the 500m to secure that win and improved on my seventh place in the sprint at nationals by coming home 5th as well as adding a third in the keiren event too.
A video of my winning 500m run can be seen here
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A video of my third place in the keiren can be seen here
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(I’m in the flattering purple and black kit)
3 days later I had a call from British Cycling (The British governing body for the sport of cycling, who are in charge of choosing the national team). They told me I had been scouted for the team and would be invited as one of 3 people to trial for the junior GB cycling team. I was over the moon, everything had happened so fast and I'd never imagined I would end up in this position 3 months earlier. I had 3 months to train my heart out before the final selection test in December.
Then, once again, fate struck me hard and I was rushed to hospital for a hernia operation just a day after receiving that phone call. The doctors said the recovery period would mean it would be 5 weeks before I could ride a bike again. Not only would this mean I had lost at least 1 month on my preparation for the trials 2 1/2 months later in mid December but also that I would lose everything I had worked so hard for in the last 3 months. The rule of training reversibility suggests that you lose form twice as fast as you gain it, so 2 months training and 1 month off put me right but where I started.
I recovered from the operation slightly slower than expected due to it being a more complicated procedure than they originally expected and got back on my bike (albeit just to try and turn the pedals again) on the 7th of November, just 6 weeks from the start of the trial. British Cycling gave me a programme to follow and basically told me to get on with it and report back to them.
I had very little contact with them when asking for advice in the 3 month trial period. The only chance I really had to ask anything was at one of the 2 training sessions before the trial. One of which I couldn't even ride my bike at during mid October. There was pretty much a one month gap between communication and a beginner (in terms of the Gym work and longer rides they had given me) can do a lot of damage to themselves in a month.
I continued with their programme which was effectively 13 hours a week with 2 rest days weekly in the lead up to the trial camp. Including some very difficult 60 mile weekend rides in -5 degrees centigrade on my own twice every weekend throughout the winter.
I came to the trial camp feeling in reasonable shape but not fantastic. I kept up with some of the top Junior riders in the world, beating them on some occasions in the bunch races but totally screwed up one of my time trials posting a time much slower than at the previous national championships and inter regional championships.
Some clips can be seen here
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(I'm the rider in green starting from near the back in both of the first 2 races. The guy that beats me both times in the first 2 is the current Junior World Champion)
Despite doing much better than the doctors expected me to be doing at the time it was not enough for British Cycling. After leaving me waiting for an answer for a month I got told that I 'haven't shown enough improvement over the 3 month trial period and therefore would not be a part of the team" I was heartbroken, I couldn't have done anything more and had no idea what more they could have expected from a person with 40 days to recover from surgery. My dream of a career in cycling was shattered.
I went back to school and everyone I thought cared about me just laughed in my face.
I'm really not confident and outgoing as it is and cycling gave me my only release, now this opportunity was gone I felt like I had nowhere to go. I responded to their rejection email asking if I could talk about it by phone and tried calling but was ignored for 2 months.
In those 2 months I practically fell to pieces. Swapping training programmes and trying to recover faster than the doctors recommend came back to hit me in the face.
My lack of advice from British cycling on weight lifting in the gym led to me using the wrong technique and I'd subconsciously ripped the tendons and ligaments in my right wrist to pieces. It's still incredibly painful today and is really tough to write with (making my final exams last month a long and painful experience). 6 months later I'm still having Physio weekly to attempt to fix it, paid for by my family now because my insurance allowance has run out (due to the cost of the hernia op the previous year). They told me I wouldn't be able to ride until August, meaning I can't ride nationals this year and all my long term goals and any chance of making it into the team are becoming incredibly slim.
But worse still, they set my saddle height to a position so high that I've also managed to develop serious tendinitis in the back of my right calf and it's caused me to have a hyper extending knee which is giving me all kinds of issues with walking, let alone attempting to get on a bike. The doctors say this could take more than 12 months to heal, if it ever does. Meaning it’s a possibility that I will never be able to compete competitively on a bike again.
I feel like I've been given an opportunity, I've pushed myself to the limit to make the most of that opportunity and I've been punished because of it. On top of this, British cycling have completely abandoned me and the coach involved still won't pick up my calls or respond to emails/texts and I have no Idea who to look to.
We were going to take our family summer holiday to the US in August as I’m thinking of going to university there if I can afford to but we've now had to cancel as I won't be able to do any of the activities, so the only thing I had left to look forward to is also gone.
My fitness is deteriorating as I can't walk or ride with my leg and I can't do anything involving my arms because of my wrist. I've tried swimming but the kicking motion screws up my knee. I'm in a state.
My parents are also beginning to doubt that there’s actually anything wrong with me at all. While the scan on my wrist showed the tendon and ligament damage clearly the leg scan only suggested that I may have tendonitis. For me the ‘not knowing’ is unbearable and my leg has barely improved in months. Now my own parents, the only people who still had faith in me, are asking me whether I’m giving up and quitting because I’m not recovering.
So yeah, that’s my story. It's been a rough year. At least this website has cheered me up a bit lately.