Fri, 25 Sept 2020
RACHAEL Elliott is an inspirational woman.
Leader of Newbury Symphony Orchestra, record-breaking national cycling time trial champion, Newbury parkrun founder and successful career woman, Rachael had her life turned upside down after suffering a devastating stroke in February 2018.
The stroke left her with seriously impaired vision and brought to an abrupt halt a cycling success story that earned her the 2017 National Closed Time Trial title.
Many people would have thrown in the towel at that point.
But not Rachael.
She literally got back on her bike, started a new career, helped found the Newbury Velo cycling club and this year she and long-standing friend Ian Greenstreet broke the National 50-mile Time Trial tandem record in a time of 1hr 37mins 57 secs.
And the 42-year-old head of Thought Leadership at BCI said: “I love racing far more than I did before the stroke – I’m doing half the training I used to do and my power is back to what it was.
“I feel lucky to be alive and I’m not upset about happened – other people are far more upset by it than me.
“I got a new job soon after that I love, I’ve helped start Newbury Velo and made many new friends.
“Seeing other people enjoy cycling is just as rewarding to me.”
Cycling was not Rachael’s first love.
She started playing the violin when she was four years old, going on to get a degree from the Guildhall School of Music in London.
She took up running in 2005 and her obsession with training meant that she got her 5k time down to 17 minutes and her half-marathon best to 1.19.00.
But she had to give up the sport in 2011/10 because of a condition that caused inflammation in her feet.
That led her to found Newbury parkrun so she could stay involved in the sport and enjoy other people running.
But Rachael’s love of competition moved her towards cycling and she tentatively tried out Newbury Road Club time trial training.
It didn’t take long for her to realise she was “quite able” and within two months and, on battered equipment, she placed 10th in the National 10k time trial.
Greenstreet, a successful member of Newbury RC, started to help out, teaching her to be more aerodynamic on the bike, and her times continued to tumble.
She got her 25-mile time down to 53 minutes and her 10-mile to 21 minutes, before breaking the national 30-mile records in a time of 1hr 03mins.
Rachael joined top team Drag2Zero, giving her access to the Mercedes Benz wind tunnel and first-class equipment.
Her times continued to improve and in 2017 she rebroke the 30-mile record in 1.00.34, as well as taking the National Closed Circuit title at Thruxton racetrack.
On February 20, 2018, she trained with Drag2Zero at the wind tunnel in Shrivenham.
And the following day, after two hours training and a day at work, she settled down for an hour’s more training before heading off for rehearsals with Newbury Symphony Orchestra, for whom she had been lead violinist for seven years.
Rachael said: “I started warming up at 5.45pm and I remember there being quite a distressing story on the news at 6pm.
“I started feeling dizzy, but carried on. But I soon became too dizzy and lay on the floor, and I started to lose some of my vision.
“I dialled 999 and was taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading where I had a CT scan.
“I was told I had had a massive bleed in the brain and that it was in an area that they couldn’t reach.
“I thought ‘this is it’ and started phoning people to say that I wouldn’t be about for much longer.
“I was taken to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and was surprised to wake up the next day, although I had lost a lot of sight and had a weakness on my left side.”
After a week, Rachael was taken back to the stroke unit at the Royal Berks and her friend Glen Knight – now chairman of Newbury Velo – brought her in a desk pedalling machine, which enabled her to link up with friends and teammates at Zwift, riding virtual routes from around the world.
She said: “It was really touching to get back in touch with friends and soon I was pedalling for two-and-a-half hours each day.”
After coming out of hospital, Rachael accepted an invitation from her friends Claire Emons and Ian Greenstreet to try out tandem racing.
And she soon found that she had an aptitude for that as well.
With Greenstreet, she stepped up training and in 2019 the pair broke national records over 15 miles (twice), 25 miles and 30 miles (twice).
Rachael was overwhelmed when she won Cycling Time Trial’s Joe Summerlin Trophy for her outstanding achievements in the sport.
And in November 2019, she helped found the Newbury Velo club, which now boasts 220 members.
This year, although events have been severely curtailed because of the coronavirus outbreak, she and Greenstreet broke the National 50-mile tandem record in a time of 1.37.57.
Rachael’s loss of vision, which means that she can’t go anywhere without a cane, could lead to a call-up for the Great Britain team for the Paralympic cycling team.
And she is still as keen as ever to continue setting new standards.
She said: “I just want to keep enjoying riding and, of course, there are always more records to get. I try to take every day as it comes and enjoy life.”