Helen Wyman: Risk taking and going after your dreams

Helen Wyman (Great Britain)

Helen Wyman (Great Britain) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)

Yesterday after the race in Overijse I took my opportunity live on Belgian TV to say something I felt is important to me and my sport. I did it in my terrible Dutch but I tried and took the risk to try to ensure a balanced viewpoint is seen, every comment has another side. So I thought I would explain further in this blog, this time in English.

Recently in the Belgian press (and from commentators on races) there have been some comments on the fact that on the start line of races there are riders who have jobs alongside those of us for whom cyclo-cross is our fulltime job. This of course is a statement of fact. However my comments in my interview yesterday were to say that basically we all make choices and we all have risks to face in making those choices. It may not be easy but it's still a choice. The first choice I guess is to be on the start line. There is little value in being on a start line and bemoaning the fact you have a job, it’s an individuals choice to be there.

Ten or so years ago I won my first UCI race, at Mallory park national trophy. At the time I was working 45 hours a week as a physiotherapist at Royal Preston hospital. I used to wake up at 5am to get three hours of training in before work, work nine hours then ride home in the dark, cold and rain and all those things which gives me huge respect for amateur racers now. In fact one day I got lost in the Lancashire hills and ended up arriving at work with three minutes to shower and eat breakfast. For the first and probably only time my 8:15 patient was waiting so that meant no time for breakfast. While my patient was slaving away on the gym ball, I popped to the gym store to get a couple of spoonfulls of food. It wasn’t an easy balance, I’m aware of that. But I chose it. I wanted to be a physio, I wanted to train hard, I wanted to cycle. It was my balance, and my choice and I can say I did it and I was proud. One day I was on my feet working an orthopaedic ward, the next day racing Flèche Wallone, to then return to ward work the following morning at 8:15 am. I did all that. I took unpaid leave as I had used up all my holiday. God knows how, the NHS is a fantastic employer, but I did it.

After two years of rotations as a physiotherapist, picking up winter vomiting (google it, it's gross) every year, I basically reached breaking point and as I was still winning bike races I made a huge choice to leave my job and go out into the world of cross to see exactly how far I could take this talent I had. In 2004 women's cross was entirely in its infancy, there was literally no money in the sport. We had a limited number of races and minimal prize money, zero start money, an entirely different world to where we are now. I took that risk and I jumped in feet first knowing that living off nothing and in debt was probably my only option for a few years. When you go from having disposable income, owning your own house, a healthy pension, going on holiday wherever you choose, to renting a bedroom in a shared house and living on credit cards at times it feels rough, I get it. But I chose it. When you have to win races to cover that measly rent, to get petrol money, not entirely knowing what you food budget is for the week, sure it doesn't always feel good. However I made that choice and I knew the risks and I wanted this.

Now I am comfortable, I once again own my own house. I am so very proud to say cyclo-cross is my job, it is my career, as awkward as that is to explain to my hairdresser every time! I have come a long way from those first years and I am so happy I took that risk all those years ago. The sport has also come a long way. We have races on TV, we have good start money, we have a race for women at every UCI event, we have an U23 category being introduced, we have a pathway to equal prize money. I never thought all of this would happen in my career. The choice to go full time is still huge, it’s no less daunting than it was 10 years ago, but there are certainly some extra incentives there now for women. The financial side of the ‘risk list’ is certainly significantly decreased with loosing your career statue probably now top of that list.

The choice for men is also hard, but look at Anthony Clark who won his first pro race this weekend in New England. This guy has worked so hard for this and really knuckled down to make it work. In his interview he said yeah now I'm going to try to make it, I can work part time in the summer and focus all my effort on cross, as long as I live tight I can do this. This my friends is what I mean, this guy has 'balls'. He has a young kid, he lives in an expensive country to live in, yet still he says "hell yeah let's do it".

"I'm not a punk anymore!"Anthony Clark attacked Curtis White and Dylan McNicholas at the right time and pulled off his first UCI win at NBX Bikes GP of CX today in Warwick, RI. #NBXCX #cyclocross #NECX New England Cyclocross Series

So in my interview when I say I have respect for the riders with jobs other than cross, I do, I've been there. But I also have massive respect for those people who have taken those risks and dedicated themselves entirely to chasing their cross dreams. Plus it should also be noted that many of these riders have actually turned down paid contracts to remain in their other jobs; it’s not like opportunity isn’t there. I'll say it again, cross is a legitimate career, you can make money, you can live comfortably eventually on it and if you choose that pathway you could be rewarded in the same way you will if you choose a different pathway. Sanne Cant will end her career as a wealthy young lady and so she should. Life is about choices and only you can make that choice based on the risks for you. We shouldn’t judge riders on what they consider their occupation to be, only on their performance and results in the races they choose to ride. This was my choice, this is their choice; on that start line we are all equal.

I think that just about covers it! In other news I won a race and got 2nd in another. Feels good to be back racing at the pointy end of the race. We have a lot of races coming up in the next month which I'm really excited about. The weather is supposed to stay pretty much the same so hopefully more mild wet races to come.

Till then.


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Follow British 'cross champion Helen Wyman during the 2012-2013 season as the Kona factory team rider competes in both the United States and Europe through to the 2013 world championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

Based in Belgium for seven years, Wyman has won the British 'cross championship seven years running, notched victories in the US and Europe and has stood on the podium at 'cross World Cups.