My Story

An honest insight into what led me to this decision.

My Retirement Announcement

I am releasing this blog a bit later than planned. It’s now been 2 weeks since I announced my retirement from professional cycling. When I thought of the idea of retiring from professional cycling, I always thought I would feel devastated at the idea of leaving this world behind, a world that I had worked so hard to prove myself in. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the relief and pure happiness that I have felt in the last fortnight. My retirement will have come as a surprise to some but was completely understandable for those around me who know me well. I am so grateful for the support and guidance I’ve had around me over the last couple of months, in particular from Hess Cycling Team, who gave me the space and time I needed to make this decision – which was difficult to begin with, but once I really slowed down and tuned in to what my body was feeling, felt like the only logical step.  

I admit, a part of me was hesitant to retire because then I felt like I had let the driver ‘win’ - as if his actions had determined the outcome of my career, which is something I had fought so hard to prove untrue. I spoke about it with some friends, and what they said back to me really stuck with me: that *I* have won because now I am at a crossroads where *I* have the power to make this choice, and I am doing it for my happiness.

If you read any of my blog posts at the end of last year, you might remember that I had been toying with the idea of retiring at the end of 2023. It had been a difficult year, and I had struggled in my last team for reasons I won’t go into. When Hess Cycling Team swooped in with their offer, and when I got to meet the team, it felt like things were clicking into place, and maybe I would get my ‘fairytale ending’ that I had been chasing.  

I have been fighting for a long time in pursuit of this ‘fairytale ending’. For myself, for my wonderful boyfriend, for my endlessly supportive parents and sisters, for my team, and also for all of you; internet strangers who have turned my little corner of the world wide web into such a safe haven, where I have been able to honestly and unapologetically document the blissful highs and painful lows of the last 5 years. Eventually, after many hard discussions, tears and sleepless nights, I came to the conclusion that maybe the fairytale ending wasn’t going to be me coming back and winning races and becoming national champion again and all of the other wonderful things the people around me hoped for. Maybe the fairytale is the fact that I got to live my dream of being a professional athlete, that I grabbed every opportunity given to me with both hands, that I am still able to ride my bike, and that I learnt more about myself in this time than the ‘real world’ could ever have taught me.

The beginning of this year was incredibly difficult for me. After my horror crash, I put all of my energy into my physical recovery. I focused solely on this, because I was too afraid to delve into the impact it had on my mental health. Once my body had healed as much as it could physically, it was as if the alarm bells started ringing to bring my attention to my mental health, which I had neglected so much. I can bring up so many stories from this period, times when I knew that something had to change, and quickly. I kept a journal over this period, and I am going to write some excerpts below.

“I feel like my PTSD is quite bad. Certain things trigger it really strongly. When I was home at Christmas, we put on 24 Hours in A+E and I wanted to scream. I was so scared. I was so scared I would see myself. When I watched The Hunger Games with Youri, one of the girls died lying in Katniss’ arms looking at the sky and I broke down crying. I was so afraid that would be me. Sometimes I just get this terrifying image in my head of me lying at the side of the road, my eyes glazing over and I’m dead. They cover my body with a black bag and my life is over.”

“There was one team meeting in particular where all of a sudden this incredibly graphic image came to mind of me directly after the crash, standing up between the two tables where I was sitting, with my knee burst open and with blood all over me, just bending over and SCREAMING. It scared me so much.”

“I was descending and this really graphic image just flashed into my mind of me coming off my bike at high speed and wrapping my back around the guardrail. These images are tiring and scaring me. I was in the car with Dad and I imagined a car hitting me from the side and the metal slicing through my leg.”

“As I walked home from the gym, a cyclist drove over a metal manhole cover and my spine went numb and dread just pooled in my chest and stomach.”

The alarm bells were quiet and slow at first, but they had reach a klaxon crescendo by the time I arrived at the start line of Setmana Ciclista Valenciana in February. I have heard professional athletes often say: “One day you wake up, and you just know it’s over”. For me, that day came in Valencia. In the first stage, I felt clunky and terrified on the bike. I was paralysed by fears of cars and death and disfigurement.

After a sleepless and anxiety-ridden night following stage one, full of nightmares of dying and extreme injury, I got on my bike to start the second stage, and I just thought: I cannot keep doing this to myself. Cycling beside Marianne Vos in the neutral section, my whole body was shaking on the bike. I thought how nice it must be to be her and not be worrying about all of the ‘what-if’s, what if I die, what if I end this race with a traumatic brain injury, what if a car gets onto the course. I got in the break that day, which should have been something to celebrate. That was always my goal in these races. I was pushing great power, but I felt empty inside. As soon as I got caught back into the bunch, my body couldn’t produce any power and I was dropped. Now that I’ve researched PTSD a bit more, I know what I was experiencing that day was something called ‘collapse’, which is when your body perceives the situation as so extreme that it surpasses the fight or flight response in an effort to protect you. I got back to Girona the next day and started EMDR therapy two days later.  

Over the last few years, I have heard on so many occasions that I am ‘brave’. This compliment kept me going after the many setbacks where it would have been understandable to quit. I am stubborn as well! I wanted to finish my time in this sport on my terms. I didn’t want my dreams snatched away from me by a careless driver. I still wanted to live out my dreams and see what I could achieve. But sometimes the braver thing to do is to accept that the journey is over. I have spent 5 years, and in particular the last 2 years, trying to prove to everyone that I am brave and good enough, but being brave now means closing this chapter.

I could never have imagined when I showed up for the first round of the Cycling Ireland talent identification process back in 2017 that I would have such an amazing, and at times heart-breaking, journey ahead of me. This sport has been cruel and beautiful in equal measures, but looking back on it now, I appreciate every chapter in my tale. 4am wake-ups in London to fit training in around my full-time job; living in Mallorca with the Irish girls, broke but happy; doing my first road races in Buggenhout and finally realising why people enjoyed this thing called cycling; moving to Belgium and getting a job in a bread factory, learning Dutch and working as a post-lady; winning the Nationals and getting my first professional contract!  

Taking the time away from social media over the last month has given me the space to make decisions without thinking of how I can explain them, or how they will be perceived. I started to think really honestly about what was making me happy – was it worth it to be anxious every day on the bike? I am forever grateful to cycling, but I also know that there is so much ahead of me to look forward to and work towards. Maybe a job that doesn’t terrify me is just the beginning of that! I always felt a bit sorry for pros who retire. Like wow, their lives must feel a bit aimless now. I was so wrong! I feel excited and driven for what’s next. I hope you'll still stick around for the next chapter.

Lots of love,

Imi x