Rebecca Romero, Neil Fachie, Lizzy Yarnold. Just a handful of examples with one thing in common – they all started out in another sport previous to their success in cycling and skeleton, respectively. Neil Fachie, a former track & field athlete, recently became double commonwealth champion in para-cycling, here in Glasgow. Lizzy Yarnold made the transformation from a heptathlete into an Olympic Gold medallist in Skeleton and Rebecca Romero enjoyed Olympic success as a Team GB rower before making the switch to track cycling, in which again, she excelled and became Olympic and World Champion.
How did they do it? I'm sure it was different in a lot of ways for each of these cases, but an arduous task and an unbelievable achievement for each of them none the less. One thing I am sure of, is that a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and drive to succeed are common denominators in all three examples.
As someone who recently won a bronze medal for Great Britain in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, as a curler, many people will find it hard to believe that I decided to leave that team, and after much deliberation, subsequently decided to take some time off the sport. It was a very tough decision for me to make, to leave behind something that has been part of my life since I was eight years old. September marks the beginning of the first curling season that I will not be involved in since 1998! But I think that's the beauty of a sport like curling. You can be at the top of your game well into your thirties and forties.
On top of this, I am in a fortunate enough position to have a good career in pharmacy, working as a locum, and hopefully in a year's time I will have completed an MSc in Sport and Exercise Science at Glasgow University. I think the opportunity to do these other things is a luxury, and perhaps having such flexibility with my career and education does make it a little easier to leave curling to one side for now. So with this in mind, for the next period of time, I have decided to change my focus to something else. Here is an insight into what I have been up to this summer…
My mouth had never been more dry and my hands had never been so sweaty as they struggled to get a grip on the handlebars of my hired Dolan track bike. My first time on the velodrome, which is named after one of my biggest sporting heroes, Sir Chris Hoy, was a nerve wracking experience. At the same time, came the greatest adrenaline rush and buzz, that was totally different from anything I had experienced in sport before. It felt so amazing and free, zooming (or so I thought) round the track, making sure I stayed fast enough to A) stay up the deceptively steep corners (television somehow fails to capture this!) and B) avoid wiping out the sprinters who were passing me on the track beneath at ground breaking speeds.
After this, I was completely hooked. You only live once right? I know that age isn't everything, but at 25 years old, it's now or never I thought. This was when I knew that it was no longer just an idea to change sport altogether, no longer the kind of thing you think of, just for a split second, when you're having an off-day on the ice. There's nothing I hate hearing more than people looking back and saying "Oh I wish I'd…". I have no idea what the future holds for me in cycling, or if I ever will reach the standard that I'd like to, but who's to say that I can't go out there and give it my best effort?
So as we are nearing the end of a hard summer of training, the Winter Olympics seem like an (ice) age ago. With the focus having been on the Commonwealth Games here in Glasgow, I joined the local Paisley Velo cycling club and took to the roads, enjoying learning the art of time trialling, trying to learn group riding skills, getting used to the 'pain' that cyclists so often refer to in their legs, and getting my fitness and bike handling skills up to scratch in preparation for hitting the boards again. I have to say, so far the transition certainly has been tough on the old legs! If my legs are tired, I can no longer go off and do something else that will be easier on these muscle groups that have suddenly become my top priority – there is nowhere to hide. That's why it's been such an important learning curve, in terms of appropriate recovery, and getting more use out of that foam roller that I'm not sure I appreciated fully as a curler!
Although there are still a number of disciplines within cycling that I have yet to try, one that I have become instantly fond of is the time trial. I didn't realise how strangely addictive it can be, constantly trying to go faster and beat your last time! I carried out some testing at Glasgow Uni, kindly done by Dr Niall McFarlane from the Sport and Exercise science department, which has helped give me a good indication of what events I might be more suited to. This was something that I had never looked into before, but after a number of different tests like power output on a bike, body composition and VO2max, it is clear that I am 100% built to be an endurance athlete rather than a power athlete.
It all makes sense now why I did well in cross country running at school, but asking me to sprint 100m was the equivalent of entering a Shetland pony into the Grand National! So within cycling, endurance includes a massive variety, from the pursuit and scratch race on the track, to time trials and road racing outside, so there is lots to explore.
Yes, it will be difficult starting all over again at the bottom of a new sport, and an incredible amount of work physically, but if you enjoy something enough, then I believe that it's worth going for. As someone who is no stranger to the three qualities I referred to earlier, hard work, dedication and drive to succeed, I am pretty excited about trying my hand at some more of these events.