Less than two weeks after returning from the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in October as World Hand cycling Champion, I was contacted by my Van sponsor, Fogarty Ltd., with the devastating news that they had gone into Receivership and my beloved VW Transporter, ‘Viva’ would be seized as a Company asset, to be sold to the highest bidder…
The Van was especially fitted out to hold all my adaptive sports equipment, all my camping essentials and even had a special Kennel for my dogs Monty and Smudge to travel safely with me. We all had many adventures in ‘Viva’ travelling as far east as the Czech Republic, south to Italy, north to the Netherlands and throughout the U.K. The Van enabled me to travel cheaply, using the EuroTunnel and Ferries to get to Para-cycling and Ironman competitions in Europe, carrying both my Hand cycle and Racing Wheelchair, plus my race wheels, tools, spares, which meant I wasn’t restricted by weight or worried about damage unlike flying.
Now I am without transport and living in rural Lincolnshire is proving logistically difficult even to get to swim and gym training in my local Town, six miles from where I live. I’m lucky to be able to train on both the Hand bike and racing wheelchair directly from my front door, but travelling abroad is a different challenge altogether because of the sheer size of these two pieces of equipment.
I’m currently looking for a new Sponsor for 2019, who might help supply an adapted Van. I have new goals for next year and there will be lots of foreign travel, trying to gain vital qualifying points for the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020. I hope you would like help me on my journey!
I have always wanted to visit Barcelona so an European Handcycle Circuit (EHC) race which was a P1 competition with the UCI, combined with a bit of sightseeing plus practice for my first UCI World Cup in May seemed a great idea. I would also gain points for my world ranking depending on my finishing position.
The Hotel, airport transfers, and a trip to the Formula 1 track for training were organised by Handbike Barcelona Club and two members also kindly accompanied me on two rides during my visit. The roads were busier than I was used to in Lincolnshire, so I was grateful to Martin for helping me train.
The TT was held around the Olympic Rowing lake, which meant a headwind into the finishing straight but a bit of wind assist at the start. The University of Barcelona was doing some research and we lined up after registration the evening before for calliper tests with bicep measurements, The same tests were repeated straight after the TT and I was so occupied that I hadn’t realised I’d come second!
The RR was held on the flat beach road the next day with a loop of about 4km with one technical turn and a roundabout. I made the mistake of assuming the race format was one hour plus a lap but it turned out to be the first rider past the post having done 38km. I was working with Romina from Italy sharing the drafting and sprinted when I heard the bell, only to do an entire lap at my best pace unnecessarily! I did, however, come second and was pleased with my race preparation for Italy in a few weeks time.
Getting up at 2am on Friday 13th is not my idea of fun, but a trip to Poland was on the cards, this being the first EHC hand cycle race ever to be held here. To get an overall European ranking, I need to compete in at least 8 of the 12 races and Poland offered both a TT and a RR over one weekend.
I decided not to recce the course as the roads of Rzeszow were busy, and so the hill climb on both the TT and RR came as an unwelcome surprise! I had a bad dream the night before, felt a bit chesty and ill and had decided on using disks which were a mistake considering the side winds encountered on the course because of the buildings. The only consolation was producing higher Watts than in Italy, but it is impossible to compare a flat with a hilly TT.
I spoke at length to hand cycle legend and Paralympic Gold Medallist Walter Albinger at the dinner laid on for us by the organisers and came away reassured that I was on the right path and just required more years of training. Competing in Europe means I get to talk to many hand cyclists, discuss equipment modifications and learn lots from my fellow competitors, who push me to do better.
So I faced the RR with renewed enthusiasm and rode positively despite being unable to draft the faster girls. The hill was more a mental problem than physical, as there were 9 laps to do, but I was relieved to hear the bell after 1 hour, having tackled it 7 times already. I came away with two 3rd places-and a bouquet of sunflowers.
I met Chris Furber, former Para-cycling Lead Coach at British Cycling’s base in Manchester, after making a tentative application to the BC Talent Squad over the winter. The meeting was fruitful and informative and got exciting when I bumped into Jody Cundy in the corridor under the Velodrome. I was a little star struck, and it was lovely of Chris to introduce us.
I travelled to Rossenau in France for the first Para-cycling race of the European Handcycle Circuit (EHC) early in March, where Chis would watch me race and see if I could possibly be funded for the UCI World Cup in Sergovia in June, depending on my performance.
The weather on race day was appalling, with the temperature barely above freezing and steady rain. I find it hard to race in the cold as it has such an adverse affect on my tone and spasticity and I have problems with temperature control. I couldn’t stop the violent shivering on the start line despite a warm-up lap.
Chris Peterson from Top End was watching the race, having become a major sponsor of the EHC series of races in 2013. He had pointed me out to a colleague before the race “Watch this girl, this should be a good race”.
I pushed down hard on the cranks in a heavy gear, wanting to keep with Rachel Morris who had told me to stick behind her to draft for the race. There was a loud noise and my seat back collapsed underneath me as soon as I set off, rendering me unable to either see over the cranks or reach to pedal. I coasted to a halt barely 50m from the start line and instantly knew my race was over before I’d even started.
Some Marshalls and spectators ran over to help, but without allan keys to fix the seat brackets, there was nothing they could do. A mechanical on the first race of the year and my first ever DNF was not how I had hoped to start my racing season.