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From tennis to inspiring women to get on two wheels

Hi everyone, welcome to my third blog for the Durham Student celebrating International Women’s Day! I’m in my third and final year of Maths at Durham and the time has flown by. It really feels like yesterday that I was arriving for tennis pre-season in September of 2019, read about this in my first blog.

An update

Since my last blog, where I changed sports during lockdown, I survived my exams 🙂.  I then spent the summer racing in the Tour Series, National Series and National Championships. I am so grateful to SKODA for the opportunity to be a part of their academy as if I’m really being honest with myself, I wasn’t enjoying the competitive side of tennis anymore and I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to step away from it if they hadn’t selected me for the team. Coming to Durham, in no small part because of tennis, I never thought that it would be something that became phased out of my life, but having not touched my rackets since December, it definitely has taken a back seat.

I’ve been asked by lots of people over the last few months if I wished I’d found cycling and stopped tennis sooner. I think my answer is both yes and no.  While I think cycling is a sport that suits my personality more than tennis ever did, I am grateful for all the lessons that it has taught me that I don’t think you can understand unless you’ve been through junior competitive tennis: it’s brutal. It can make the calmest person genuinely want to scream and break rackets 😂.   It’s also a great game and I can see that it may be part of my life in the future, but just for fun and in a non-competitive way!

Riding in short socks!

However, the change to cycling has just worked for me and if you’d told me even in June 2021 that I would have finished the year racing all the National Championships (after I got dropped in the first few laps of my first race and wearing short socks- oh dear…), there is no way I would have believed you. If you’d said that to me this time 2 years ago, I would have called you crazy as at that point, I probably hadn’t touched a bike in over 5 years…

This year, I’m racing for Storey Racing, mentored by the SKODA DSI Cycling Academy and I’m also the Durham University Women’s Cycling Club captain. I was ecstatic to be selected for Storey Racing, (Dame Sarah Storey) read about it here as I know that it’s the best place for me to develop as a rider. I love riding in their kit and I’m looking forward to our first team camp in a couple of weeks and getting to ride my new road and TT bikes for the first time!

I am now in Devon for the last couple of weeks of term before the first U23 National Series of the year at Hatherleigh.

I love riding in Storey racing kit

Future plans

My plans for this year are to keep soaking up as much race experience as possible and just to keep having this much fun on the bike.  I’ve had a go at hill climbs, cyclocross, crits, road races and time trials and I am looking to gain more experience in all these disciplines and also hopefully get on the track this year. I’ve already done a CX race and a crit at Croft with some other DUCC riders and managed to come 3rd.   I recorded my best sprint numbers, so I think my strength and conditioning sessions with Kara Elderkin at Maiden Castle has paid off!

In terms of races, targets for me are the Duathlon World Age-Group Championships in Romania and the U23/Elite National Series. I’m also really looking forward to representing Durham in the BUCS 10 mile TT and Road Race later this year.

I’m committed to growing women’s cycling so to follow on from the charity ride I did last year for The Cyclist’s Alliance, read more about it here. I’m working with my personal sponsor Bott&Co on the ‘She Can Ride’ campaign over the course of this year looking at the barriers that stop women from getting into cycling and how we can overcome them.

Skoda cycling academy

Takeaway message

The last year has been a whirlwind of new and exciting opportunities, the biggest things I’ve learnt from this whole process are:

Keep your mind open: you never know what opportunity is around the corner and what you might enjoy most.

Just ride a bike! If you’re on the fence about getting your bike out of the shed or even buying one for the first time, just do it! Cycling opens up a whole new world, and I am a true believer that it has something for everyone.  Whether it be a love of café stops (like me), strava K/QOMs or feeling like you’re helping the environment and helping your health by using it for commuting, just to name a few.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions about getting involved in cycling at University, please get in touch!

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Olivia French

Hi! My name is Olivia and I am a 3rd year studying Maths. When I started at Durham in 2019 I played tennis but since lockdown, I have switched sports to cycling and I love it! You can read more of my story in other blogs I have written https://sites.durham.ac.uk/studentblog/a-team-durham-student-athlete-experience/ and  https://sites.durham.ac.uk/studentblog/how-i-kept-fit-and-found-a-new-sport-in-lockdown
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