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  Georgia Hilleard Blog: Leaving British Cycling  
  January 11th 2019 By Georgia Hilleard  
  Georgia Hilleard (right) with Lauren Bate after winning 2018 British team sprint title. Photo: PA Images
  Some may think I'm crazy for leaving what's known as the best programme in the world of sport. However, if there's one thing that I have learnt from being a part of it all is that there is way more to life than just riding around in circles and not enjoying what you're doing. As everyone knows, when you're placed in a situation that you have no control over, it is often very hard to speak up and get the issue resolved. Elite sport is a pressure cooker environment, everyone has targets to hit and medals to win, but it seems more often than not, nearly always, and apparent across most sports, targets and medals are put before the individual and their mental health.

I have come up through the pathway with British Cycling, two years on Junior Academy and then just over a year on the Senior Academy. This is where I moved fully to focus on sprinting and for my dad to lose his training partner for a while! The British Cycling Academy helped me to understand how to look after myself with nutrition and recovery, which I loved learning about because I wanted to make myself the best athlete I could be. I feel as though it helped me to be more mature and think more about the decisions I made and whether it would affect anything I did on the bike. I was also lucky enough to get given world class equipment required but would have to say goodbye to my trusty 'planet-flex' as people would call it (I loved it).

It's now been just over a month since I officially left the world class programme and I know many people are still intrigued into my decision as I haven't really opened up about it other than briefly mentioning in a post on Instagram when I announced my departure - and in fairness this was only vague. So, for those of you that are still reading, and want to know the real reasons for my departure then read on. The short and simple of it for those of you that haven't got the time to read this A-Level English essay below, is, I simply wasn't enjoying it anymore. I had fallen out of love with the sport, and my mental health was beginning to suffer.

I would get caught up in the life of just cycling and not care for anything else which meant when things went well, I was living the high life! But when things didn't go so well... I guess you get the picture. I would feel very restricted in what I could do and for someone who loves to keep active, I found this quite difficult. I felt as though I couldn't do things adventurous or add to vital life experiences as the constant thought of 'will this effect training' would go through my head. This highlights the sacrifices that you have to make in order to be a successful athlete, don't get me wrong I always understood this as many other athletes do, but it's not until you're isolated in a situation when these sacrifices really hit home. It often felt as if I wasn't in control of my own life and always had someone/something determining what I could or could not do. At the end of the day, it seems a saying that many people try to live by however, only few are actually successful, life is too short not to love what you're doing and as I've experienced over the last few months life is also too short to feel restricted to new experiences.

I soon took action, along with the experiences I felt I was missing out on as well as the constant ups and downs and the emotions that came with it, it finally began to take its toll on me. I decided to enrol at the Manchester Metropolitan University studying Sport and Exercise Science. Away from bike riding I have always wanted to consider working in the field of strength and conditioning and have done ever since I started doing gym myself, starting a strength and conditioning course at MMU seemed like the next logical step in helping me achieve this if I ever did step away from the programme - never did I think it would come this early however. However, starting my studies again did in fact achieve what I wanted it to - help to keep my mind off cycling for at least a little bit. You'll be all happy to know that I passed my first mid-term exam in December and after doing so, it has given me more confidence and at the time gave me reinforcement that I am actually good at things other than cycling! Albeit, at the time this still didn't change the fact that I would still have to go into training every day and feel a constant amount of pressure on my shoulders. Trust me, I might be blonde but I'm not that naive! I understand that this comes with elite sport (SOMETIMES!) however not to the point where it subtracts the fun from the sport you love, and you physically feel sick at the thought of having to get on your bike again. I soon began to doubt myself and my ability. As you can imagine, this would then affect my performance, then my mental health would suffer again. It was just a vicious cycle - excuse the pun!

So, the big topic everyone wants to talk about but always gets avoided. It is better now in recent years compared to previous however it is still not spoken about anywhere near enough and especially not in elite sports! Mental health. In my opinion, I didn't get the help I needed soon enough. When I did finally get offered help, I felt as though there was a lot more to be resolved rather than the case of preventing me from feeling the way I did. I have always liked to keep myself to myself so having to explain my feelings to people was often difficult for me and finding the right person to talk to was even more so. Obviously, like with all elite sports there were many people in my support system but only a couple I felt as though I could talk to and open up about my mental health as I feared that people wouldn’t understand or would think I don't belong in that environment anymore. Sometimes those fears became reality and my existence on the programme was inevitably questioned. I understand that difficult questions like this need to be asked, however like all hard conversations there is a time and a place, and personally, neither of these were done with that in mind.

Of course, I still wanted to ride my bike and be the best I could, but this is always hard when your head isn't in right place. Like all things, you need to be in a positive place in order to perform at your best, whether that be in an office or on a velodrome in front of a home crowd, however, in a group of cycling fanatics, where on the face of it everyone seems to be in a positive mindset, it is always going to be difficult for people to get their head around that I wasn’t happy doing the thing everyone else loved, the majority of the time. Obviously, being the piggy in the middle this then made me feel isolated from the people I was around, as I began to find it more and more difficult to relate to them; none of this was their fault of course, what I found through this was that you can very easily begin to overthink things and ultimately think the worst of everything. Over time it became apparent to my team mates that I wasn't happy. I never wanted to be a burden to the people that I was around and in fact this was a factor in my decision to leave the programme, as I didn't want to bring the mood down and ultimately affect their performances also.

Alongside all this, when finally considering leaving the programme, there were always constant thoughts going through the back of my head. Foremost, I was scared what my parents were going to think - obviously, upon reflection now, my head being in a much happier place this was extremely stupid of me really - they're my parents for goodness sake, woman! All they want me to be is happy, but honestly, they're very supportive people. My biggest worry was that they were going to be disappointed and feel as though I had just given up. All those years wasted. Of course, this is not what they thought and I'm very lucky to have such supportive parents.

Another fear was the lack of security and no structure. Leaving the programme, I am forcing myself into the real world and to face different challenges. This is scary! With no past experiences of work or job interviews (not that many 19 year olds do but you know what I mean!) I didn't know what I was getting myself into. But, despite all this, I soon found it an exciting thought, the world is my oyster! Speaking about security, this was not to say I was 100% secure on the programme. There was always the chance of being taken off and put on three month review at a moment's notice, but elite sport is like a conveyor belt. People need to get kicked off for people to be bought on, so you are constantly having to fight for your position - there's no time for complacency, but it soon became apparent also that this was a lifestyle I did not really enjoy.

Admittedly, I had my fair share of breakdowns over the past few months, which was hard to say at the time but now having gone through what I have, I've come to realise that it's okay to feel like that sometimes. Especially when you know you have people around you to support you through it. I want to say that mental health is serious and isn't spoken about enough and in my opinion is often regarded as the last resort to what is causing problems. If there's one thing to take from this, it's to speak out before things get worse because believe it or not, people will want to help you! It's not a form of weakness to express how you feel.

I guess the question you all have though is: Is she still riding her bike? The answer, YES! I'm back to enjoying the sport that I once loved, no pressure, no targets, no one to question my existence in the sport, just plain old enjoyment like the 8 year old Georgia once had. Moving on, I'm excited to get stuck into new things and to just see where life takes me. I'm continuing with my uni course but also enjoying new sports such as running and have some plans with this as well. Having new interests to get stuck into is a refreshing thought. It helps with not having the only topic at the dinner table being watts and weights anymore! No offence to anyone that may be under that category, it's just no longer my cup of tea! I do eventually want to get back into racing but it just a matter of finding my feet again and being able to do road rides longer than 90 minutes. Alongside all this I am also taking the time to explore new and different countries with my sister, which I haven't been able to do before. First on the agenda for us is a visit to Columbia and Ecuador through May and June!

I hope you enjoyed my blog and was able to take something from it. Thanks for reading and keep smiling!! :D

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened" - Dr. Seuss
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