After a two-year absence from cycling to focus on her mental health, Jenny Rissveds has made a remarkable comeback with a victory at the MTB World Cup in Lenzerheide. The Olympic champion returned to competition this spring with her new outfit Team 31 named after the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 31 that promotes child rights.
"Two years ago, I didn't want to be alive. I just want to say that it is possible," Rissveds said in a post-race interview with the UCI after winning the series round ahead of Anne Terpstra and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who also made a return to the sport after recovering from double Iliac artery surgery.
"Never give up. Like Pauline said last week when she won her first World Cup in a very long time, 'never give up,' and I just want to say 'never give up.' Never.
"In Swedish, we say the circle is complete. Two years ago, I won this World Cup, and I won today. It's such a journey. I can't believe what journey I've been through. The circle is complete again."
Rissveds won the under-23 world title and the gold medal at the Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro in 2016. At just 22 years old she was the fastest-rising talent in the sport of mountain biking but decided to break her contract with former team Scott-SRAM. She needed to take time away from the sport to focus on her mental health. She cited an eating disorder and bouts of a deep depression following a disagreement with the Swedish Cycling Federation combined with the loss of her two grandfathers in 2017.
She made a brief return to the sport last summer and won the Swedish national title. This spring, she announced in a Redbull TV video interview that she would return to competition on the MTB World Cup circuit with a team she launched - Team 31.
"I don't know what came first, the depression or the eating disorder," Rissveds told Redbull TV in the emotional interview. "It's like if you stop eating your brain won't work normally. Then all the pressure that came out of winning the mountain bike races and winning the Olympics, and all that mixed together - it was just too much.
"Cycling, and why I started to ride my bike, it was so far away. At a certain point, it was not possible. I couldn't even go out of my bed, and I didn't even want to live anymore.
"There is so much pressure out there today: you should look good, you should do cool stuff and post it on social media, and you should earn a big amount of money. At the same time, we are travelling around the world; we are also counting likes, counting followers.
"So, I took this break and during this time I was thinking quite a lot; I'm tired of that, tired of counting followers, I'm tired of talking about results, I'm tired of talking about what society tells us to talk about.
"I also know that our future generation is talking about how to become famous when they grow up. It's their goal, and that makes me sad.
"From the beginning, my manager in Sweden has been very important for me, through this period of my life when I was sick. So, he called me up one day, and he was crying, and he said 'I knew this was going to happen. We have to do 31, and you are the one who is going to lead 31."
The name of the team is a nod to the United Nations' article 31: The Convention on the Rights of the Child. It includes a child's right to rest, leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
The article also states that parties must respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.
"Our main focus on the team is to inspire and preserve the children's right to play, to be active and to recover.
"[Team 31] is what we came up with after my break after I had time to recover. To be honest, I couldn't motivate myself to come back to the racing scene again, to do it all over again. I was so tired of it. So, coming back with new energy, a new and bigger proposal - I want to come back and do something that matters.
"I hope to see thousands of children in these activities; where we come together, we talk and play together. My main goal this time is not to win all these races. It's to inspire children to stay active, to always come back to what you love to do, to be yourself, and know that as long as you're just yourself, you'll come far enough.
"I've learned how to ride my bike for fun again, and that is a good feeling because that was the reason why I started racing; because I love riding. To be back full training and seeing what your body's potential of is quite cool too. I'm happy to be back."
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