Hi, my name is Ellie Richardson, I am track sprint cyclist with the Scotland Team and I had the honour of riding at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome last month! Female participation in sport is something I am passionate about from both a sporting and professional perspective so I was delighted to be approached by Scottish Women In Sport and asked to share my sporting story.
The first time I raced on an indoor track was at the age of 13, but there was no track bike in tow or Siberian pine in sight as this was an indoor athletics meet at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.
Growing up in the Highlands of Scotland I represented Wester Ross Athletics Club (AC) and Inverness Harriers AC, winning numerous medals across all the sprint disciplines and becoming Scottish Schools 200m champion aged 17. However, reconstructive ankle surgery forced premature retirement before the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and I thought my competitive days in sport were over.
After the bitter disappointment of never being able to reach my potential in athletics due to injury, I was determined to ensure that my experiences had not been in vain. I therefore decided to embark upon a career as a Physiotherapy in the hope of helping others – sporting or otherwise – to reach their potential without injury or mismanagement holding them back. I gained a first class BSc (Hons) degree in Physiotherapy and went on to gain a PG Dip in Orthopaedic Medicine before being accepted into an MSc in Advcanced Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Practice. I am also co-writing a post surgical shoulder rehabilitation book. Working alongside both elite athletes and the general public in a physiotherapy role has been and continues to be an incredibly rewarding profession. At this point I assumed that my experiences would serve mainly to help others and I did not think competitive sport was once again on the horizon.
However, in the summer of 2011 it was suggested I try track cycling at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester. Having very limited knowledge of cycling and no experience riding a fixed wheel bike it was a pretty daunting process but I immediately fell in love with the sport! After my first year I was taken on by the Scottish Cycling Performance Programme and just under 3 years later I was selected to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games this July after beating the Commonwealth 500m tt qualification standard. I had a top 8 target for the games and I was delighted to finish in 8th place at my first ever games.
Competing in the Commonwealth Games last month is an experience I will never forget. Pride doesn't do justice how it feels to pull on the Scottish National skinsuit and race in front of a home crowd, every one of whom is 100% behind you and rooting for you. It's a very special achievement and an experience that will stay with me forever. From a personal perspective I can now lay to rest the disappointed of missing out on Dehli and instead cherish the memory of riding in Glasgow and build towards The Gold Coast in 2018!
My path into cycling is an unconventional one but I hope to show that achieving sporting goals, pursuing post graduate study and a professional career are not mutually exclusive choices in life. Sport has always been a very big part of my life and has opened many doors professionally as well as resulting in personal growth and development all of which have ultimately helped me to understand myself better as a person.
My feelings on sport and female participation in sport are extremely positive and the fact that there are excellent female sporting role models out there for young people (such as Jessica Ennis, Eilidh Child, Anna Meares, Victoria Pendleton…. to name but a few!) is such a very reassuring thing. From a cycling perspective, I hope that part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will be to inspire more women (and men of course!) to get on their bikes, or perhaps try a sport they never thought of trying before.
For me, the only downside to the track cycling programme at the Games was the disparity between the sprint track events for men and women. There were 4 events available to the men (the Sprint, the Keirin, the Team Sprint, and the kilometre time trial) compared to just 2 for the women (the 500m time trial and the Sprint). In order to encourage more women to enter an arena historically considered to be a "man's world" or domain there first of all needs to be a level playing field in terms of opportunities for both sexes. So the limited programme for female sprinters was disappointing and to me, not in keeping with the otherwise positive image of the Games.
Unlike track endurance and road racing, finding competitions with a full sprint sprint programme in this country can be difficult for both sexes, but especially for women, and therefore gaining race experience is hard; unless you have the financial backing to enable you to travel abroad to race. Moving forward I would love to see the UK Revolution Elite track cycling series continue to embrace a broader track programme and include some team sprint events for women as they have for the men. I would also love to see sprint events, including all the olympic and world sprint disciplines, put on in indoor velodromes periodically throughout the year so amateurs have chances outside of the British National Track Championships (held once a year) to post official times and track their progress. We now have four indoor velodromes in this country, with the 5th in Derby on it's way and due to open in the next month or so, and moving forward I hope the potential of facilities are maximised in terms of both racing and increasing general participation.
Cycling and sport at all levels is such a positive thing but sadly not enough females participate in sport. From a cycling perspective it has often been suggested that their is not the same strength and depth in female racing across the board as there is in men's racing. However, this does not justify having unequal opportunities for both and a more level playing field is certainly the first step needed towards creating depth, increasing participation and identifying future talent.