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Sally Hurst GB Paracyclist

As part of our Global Cycling series, and in order to promote Rio 2016, we recently interviewed inspirational GB cyclist, Sally Hurst from Leeds.

1. Sally, you had such a rare form of bone cancer in 2005, and at such a young age. To be told this must have been overwhelming.

I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma the same year I was due to get married. We had to put our plans on hold and tell all our guests the wedding wasn’t going to happen. The treatment - nine months of intensive chemotherapy - was extremely gruelling. I barely had the energy to get out of my wheelchair to get into bed, let alone think about doing any exercise.  I couldn’t go to work for a year, and had to rely on Peter and my mum to look after me, which is really difficult when you’re used to being independent. In July 2005, because my tumour wasn’t responding to chemo, I decided to have an above-knee amputation to give me the best chance of surviving.

2. In December 2005, you had to learn to walk again, let alone cycling. Were you driven from the very start to fight your new situation. 

I never doubted that I would learn to walk using my prosthetic because I wanted to get back to work and life. But it’s not as easy as you might imagine before you lose your limb - it’s not a case of getting a leg, putting it on and walking. It’s a gradual process of learning to weight-bear,f then taking a couple of steps, then walking a few metres. It felt like a huge achievement just to be able to walk around the block! I think it helped my rehabilitation, that I was young and fit (or at least, I had been fit before treatment started). I’d always loved sport and was a horse-rider and dancer before my illness.

3. When did you begin cycling initially as a child? Was it a family activity generally?

As a kid, we had the usual bike-with-stabilisers, then a mountain bike, and used to go out as a family on rides along bridleways. But my parents were always very nervous about us riding on roads so road cycling was completely new to me, and only started after I got involved with British Cycling following my amputation. But my parents have rekindled their love of cycling in the past couple of years too, and have a collection of sit-up-and-beg bikes in their garage. They’d never ride a road bike though! 

4. You attended the Sheffield Olympic legacy event in 2013 as a reporter. Who was it from British Cycling that you spoke to and how did it develop into becoming a member of the GB squad?

I went to the ParalympicGB SportsFest in 2013. It was an event to encourage more people with disabilities to have a go at different sports, and I was there to make a report for BBC Look North about the Paralympic legacy, one year on from London 2012. Whilst there, I got talking to British Cycling and they suggested I should do a power test as “they didn’t have any above-knee amputee women on the team”. I did point out that I worked full-time, had two small children, and was in my 30s, but it didn’t seem to put them off! Their interest in me reignited something in me - a little spark of enthusiasm for sport, I suppose, I realised I really missed doing something physically challenging.

So, encouraged by Peter, I went to Manchester a couple of weeks later for a power test and was inspired to start training. I hauled my old heavy, hybrid bike out of the garage and started going out on rides - just a couple of miles at first, to the next village and back, then six miles, then ten. Then I joined a cycling club (Seacroft Wheelers) and did 40 miles on a Sunday - which nearly killed me! But I enjoyed the freedom of being out on my bike so much, that I kept going. I bought a road bike, and kept in touch with British Cycling. When they advertised for disabled women to join a new Paralympic development programme, I was one of around a hundred women who were tested on various dates around the country. Ten of us were accepted onto the programme in May 2014, and given training programmes and training camps with a BC coach.

5. Your typical week is hectic to say the least!  
4 road rides
Indoor turbo
2 Pilate's sessions - Is it all a bit of a juggle with two young kids?

The main challenge for me is fitting in training around work and my two children. I try to focus on what I’m doing at the time, so if I’m training I’m not thinking about work and vice versa. But it does mean I don’t go out socialising very much, or watch too much TV as I try to be in bed by 10pm. But I am very, very tired a lot of the time - which goes with the territory with two young children!

6. Do the family ride together?

We’re starting to ride together a bit more now the kids are getting older. I’m really looking forward to it becoming a family activity. My daughter has just started going to weekly children’s training run by Clifton Cycling Club, which she really enjoys. So no doubt she’ll be faster than me soon! We also have a double-seated trailer which someone kindly gave to me. It fastens on to the back of Peter’s bike so both kids can ride behind him, attached to his bike. Then I can ride alongside. I’m hoping to get out on it more once the weather warms up - kids soon complain when they’re cold!

7. What do you see as your main achievements so far, and what would you say to others?

I’ve had some fantastic experiences - competing in Italy and South Africa against some of the best paracyclists in the world, and becoming part of a sporting world that I’d only ever read about or watched on TV. Cycling’s a great sport for challenging yourself - whether that’s a Strava PB, a segment on Zwift, or a sportive. I’d encourage anyone to give it a go - it’s a fantastic sport.

8. What are your aims for 2016 and beyond?

I’m just enjoying the adventure and I’ll continue doing this as long as I’m still improving and learning. Cycling’s a major part of my life and always will be - I’m a cyclist for life now!

9. You're also a club cyclist Sally; what part do they play as a club in your cycling routine and cycling life?

I race with Para-T, which is a team made up of some of the GB paracyclists, and I ride with two brilliant clubs - Seacroft Wheelers and Garforth Velo. They’re a bunch of fantastic people who all share a love of cycling. They’ve really encouraged me and I look forward to Sunday club rides as it’s great to train with other people.

10. What are your thoughts on ladies cycling and the development of it?

The visibility of women’s racing in the media is improving but still lags far behind men’s. It’s still a massively male-dominated sport but I think it’s changing. There are more women turning up on Sunday club rides now, which is great. And there are more women’s races at the weekends. Women-only groups are a good way of encouraging women to get into cycling. I started out riding with a great group of women because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with men initially. But I love riding in mixed groups too, I enjoy the camaraderie and the banter.

Click here to learn more about the Bone Cancer Research Trust from visiting their website