The hardest climb: How the Irish national cycling champion has worked through her toughest year to date.

Lara Gillespie has had a number of challenges to overcome this year. Photo: Lara Gillespie

“Every doctor I went to couldn’t tell me what was wrong, every doctor dismissed my pain because I was still able to cope with it.”

The term ‘a rollercoaster year’ may be something of an understatement for 19-year-old Irish cyclist Lara Gillespie’s experiences of the last 12 months.

Coming out of a hugely impressive junior career, during which time she collected a European title, Lara started 2020 knowing it would be her first year stepping up to the elite level.

What she couldn’t anticipate were the circumstances which have followed.

First, the coronavirus pandemic began cancelling sporting events across the world, leaving the Irish rider without the high level racing experience she was hoping to gain. It then turned to the postponement of the world’s biggest sporting showcase, the Olympics in Tokyo.

Pushing back the games has had a huge effect on so many athletes, and for the most part negatively.

But for Lara, it threw out a possibility.

She says: “The postponement meant maybe I could have an opportunity to be selected for Tokyo because I’d have an extra year to get on that level.

“It gave the whole Irish team an extra time to prepare, we kind of saw it as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

“But then with the whole virus continuing on for way longer than anyone expected it meant that we didn’t get the same preparation or the same training.”

Despite the circumstances, the 19-year-old from Wicklow still continued pushing on with her goals. 

In August, Ireland hosted their annual track championships in Dublin, and it would be Lara’s first time riding them as an elite. She came away with a collection of medals, including a national title in the scratch race.

For her, this must’ve seemed a huge step in the right direction, as she edged out the best competition in Ireland to put herself centre stage.

Following this, Lara then went on to put the cream on top of her curtailed season, taking the Irish National Road Race title in October.

Lara talks through her highlights of a difficult year. Credit: HerSport.IE

Yet, in the distance a new obstacle loomed.

The second wave started hitting the world, with cases higher than ever, putting the newly rescheduled 2021 Olympics in doubt once again. 

But for Lara, she took a more optimistic view on the situation.

She says: “2021 hasn’t really been a major goal of mine.

“I’m just more focused on the process of gaining experience and stepping up into the elite category and making a mark.”

Looking through a positive mindset, Lara then travelled to Italy for the U23 European Track Championships.

“We can adapt and that’s what we have been doing and we get on with it.”

Lara’s positive mindset has played a huge part in her success.

Across the weekend, she had been in severe pain, but had battled through to keep pushing on for her goals.

The pain had been around for a few months, and despite seeing a multitude of doctors, she was continuously brushed off with any issue failing to be found.

Moving into 2021, and she finally had a breakthrough with her issues. Doctors diagnosed her with a rare syndrome, and rushed her through to an emergency surgery at the beginning of January.

Now, Lara is on her road to recovery, and just two weeks out of surgery, she’s already back on her bike and raring to go.

She says: “With that setback I have to just accept it and tell myself what will be will be and things will happen in their own time. 

“I’m not rushing it, I’m not stressing about it and I’m really just trusting the process.

“If 2021 is meant to be and I’m on flying form in a few months then that would be amazing but right now I’m just focusing on training day by day and getting back to where I was.”

If it’s Tokyo at the end of this year, or Paris in three years time, it’s clear Lara has the commitment and dedication to reach her goals, so for now, it’s simply a matter of time.