After two heart surgeries and a broken shoulder blade Norfolk cycling star Sophie Wright is named in British Cycling's senior mountain bike squad
It's been a dramatic year for Norfolk cycling star Sophie Wright but it's finishing on a high, as one of the newest members of British Cycling's senior squad told David Freezer, as she sets her sights on an exciting 2018.
Cycling prodigy Sophie Wright is used to climbing hills on her bike but this year those inclines have seemed just that bit steeper – after two rounds of heart surgery.
The 18-year-old’s difficult year is finishing on a high though, after being named in British Cycling’s senior mountain bike squad for the first time.
That follows the Horsford cyclist becoming Great Britain’s first ever junior female European mountain bike (MTB) champion, on Huskvarna Mountain in Sweden in May 2016, showing why she was a member of the Olympic Junior Academy.
Her first UCI MTB Junior Series win followed at Hadleigh Park in Essex in August of last year, earning a nomination for British Cycling’s Rider of the Year award.
However, it was during the European Road Championships in France that the former Hellesdon High School pupil had a worrying health scare.
“My heart issue had been occurring two or three years before that, where just randomly it would spike to like 250 beats per minute – which definitely wasn’t normal because my usual maximum would be about 190,” Wright explained. “I didn’t want to pull out of that race though so I just kept going. Doctors would probably have told me to pull out immediately but I was just trying to take really deep breaths.
“The way it went it would just suddenly drop down and it was back to like 140 again. So after that race I told my coach that it had happened again and he got in touch with the doctor at British Cycling and that doctor told me to just stop cycling – no training, no racing. So that was so hard because I just had lots of time off not being able to do my hobby and it was so horrible watching other people race.”
After consultation it emerged that Wright had an arrhythmia issue which meant keyhole surgery would be needed to stop a node – part of the heart’s electrical system which regulates the heartbeat – by going up an artery through the groin.
After a four-hour surgery at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire doctors were unable to fix the issue, leaving the youngster feeling thoroughly disappointed.
“I came out of theatre and the doctor said they hadn’t done it so I was just so devastated, and mum and dad were so upset for me, but he said they could do it,” she said.
“My next appointment was in April to have it done and this time they would be prepared to burn out the cell close to the junction box but they were playing with about 2mm and if they had got it wrong I could have ended up with a pacemaker! So it was quite nerve-wracking really.
“It was about five-and-a-half hours in there and as soon as I saw my mum and dad I was just like ‘they did it’ and we all started crying, it was just such a relief.”
Just 12 days later Wright was back in the saddle and winning junior races, having been able to start doing some training while her heart issues were fixed.
In amongst it all was the small matter of A-levels as well, taking revision into Papworth ahead of her operation, and securing an A in both economics and business, as well as a C in mathematics. The drama wasn’t over yet though.
After winning the junior women’s race at the Tour of the Reservoir in Northumberland, finishing seventh in the elite women’s class, a crash when riding in Hamsterley Forest, in County Durham, followed and a trip to hospital with a broken shoulder blade brought another setback. However, that didn’t stop British Cycling selecting Wright to race in both the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Australia, finishing eighth in the junior women’s class in Cairns, and the UCI Road World Championships in Norway, finishing 12th in Bergen.
All of which led to graduating from British Cycling’s Junior Academy to the Senior MTB squad in October, recently spending time in Manchester to get advice for her winter training, and then last week being named in the senior MTB team for 2017-18.
“I’m really delighted,” Wright added. “It’s always been my dream to be a full-time cyclist so I’m kind of fulfilling that and after the year I’ve had I’m just looking forward to getting some proper training and racing in now I’m on the programme.
“2018 is the Commonwealth Games year so it would be awesome to be selected for that, which is down on the Gold Coast in Australia.
“It will be my first year racing in the under-23 category and I’m only 18 so it will be a big step up but I’m looking forward to seeing what it brings. My ultimate goal is to become Olympic and world champion, so Tokyo 2020 would be awesome and if not, 2024.”
After the determination Wright has shown this year, those lofty ambitions must be taken seriously.
Good news for Vicky Barnes as well
There are two Norfolk cyclists named in the British Cycling senior team for 2017-18, with an important step in the recovery of Victoria Williamson from her career-threatening injuries.
Now using her married name of Barnes after her summer wedding, the 24-year-old has returned to the Podium Programme, in the sprint category, alongside the likes of Olympic gold medallists Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner.
The former Norwich High School for Girls pupil, from Hevingham, broke her neck, back and pelvis, and sustained a deep cut to her right flank, in Amsterdam in January 2016.
Those serious injuries caused her to miss last summer’s Olympics but her remarkable rehabilitation has continued to go well, having the metal work removed from her back and pelvis in September.
Barnes’s rehabilitation is continuing at Sport England’s Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre in Berkshire, as British Cycling continue to show faith in the impressive recovery powers of the 2013 world team sprint bronze medallist.