Ellen Hunter

Ellen Hunter and Aileen McGlynn

The Welsh Paralympic cyclist says "Whatever I do I want to do it well. I always want to be the best."

Raise Your Game: Can you explain the role you play in your team?

Ellen Hunter: I'm a pilot, which is the person who steers on the front but, of course, we're a team because we're both on a fixed wheel and we both have to pedal. My partner, Aileen McGlynn, is visually impaired; she can't ride her own bike, so I'm the eyes of the tandem. We compete together so we both get medals.

At our first major event in Athens in 2004 we broke the world record in the 200m and got a gold medal, and we also won silver in the sprint.

RYG: What is the most important part of working in a team?

EH: Respect for one another. Aileen has to have a lot of confidence in me being able to pilot her around a track. It's not as important when you're training on the track, but when we go out training on the road if she's got confidence in me to make the right decisions, and not to crash, then that's important.

Profile

Name:
Ellen Hunter

Born:
12 February 1968

From:
Wrexham

Sport:
Disability cycling

Position:
Pilot Cyclist

Team mate:
Aileen McGlynn

Achievements:

  • Gold (New World Record) 1km time trial, UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships (2009)
  • Appointed OBE (2009)
  • Gold - 3km pursuit tandem, Beijing Paralympics (2008)
  • Gold - 1km time trial - Beijing Paralympics (2008)
  • Gold - 1km time trial - World Disability Championships (2007)
  • Gold - 1km time trial - World Disability Championships (2006)
  • World Record 200m Women's Tandem (2004)
  • Gold - 1km time trial - Athens Paralympics (2004)

RYG: How did you prepare for Beijing?

EH: We started preparing after Athens. We've competed in the European Championships and the World Championships every year since. During the winter we do a lot of road and gym work. Aileen is based in Glasgow and will do her specific turbo exercises. Also she often gets on the road with other pilots.

Then, from February onwards, we get together every other week, in three day slots, on the track and we practise. We're now doing a lot of track specific stuff and working together to be as one on the tandem.

RYG: You're representing Great Britain, how does that feel?

EH: It's a great privilege to represent the country and we have so much support. We have coaches, mechanics, a physio, a psychologist and doctors should we need them. It's all there on offer to us and to walk out there in all the kit and to have a tandem built specifically for us is great.

RYG: Do you feel the pressure?

EH: A lot! It was great in Athens because we were unknowns. We'd never competed against women before in any other race so we had nothing but to go out and win. I'm very competitive so my goal is always to win but as the world record holders in the 1k and the pursuit we are on top, the team everyone will want to beat. So in that scenario its very hard not to disappoint.

RYG: How important is it to set yourself goals?

EH: We're set targets and goals throughout the year. Usually its lap times or starts or in the gym. It is very important to have a goal, whatever you're doing. It's good to give yourself six weeks to reach a target or a time. It also gives you more confidence that you are improving. But even with all this training, until you've got your fast disc wheels and your aero helmet on, you can't tell what you're going to do until the race.

RYG: Has cycling improved your confidence?

EH: Whatever I do I want to do it well. I always want to be the best so whether that makes me confident I don't know. I think you have to be confident but I don't want to cause an accident or crash, and I don't want to disappoint Aileen. We both train well and I think confidence comes with training.

RYG: How can disabled people get involved in sports such as cycling?

EH: It's difficult, because there are obviously visually impaired and disabled people out there who are unaware of what they can achieve. There are probably lots out there who don't realise they can jump on a bike or play basketball or any other sport.

We definitely need more TV and radio coverage to raise awareness. It is becoming more publicised because the Great Britain cycling team have done so well in the last two or three years. We're hoping to get a big bag of medals from the Beijing Olympics and I think we've got more profile on this Paralympics than we did in Athens.

RYG: What have been the highlights and lowlights of your career?

EH: The highlight was definitely breaking the world record and winning gold in Athens, but I broke my back a year before Athens and was told I wouldn't cycle again. That was probably the worst year that I've had in my career.

To be told you might not do something again that you're so passionate about is a very difficult blow, but it does make you more determined. It makes you want to come back stronger and better than before, and being told I couldn't do it made me determined to prove them wrong.

RYG: What inspired you to carry on after that setback?

EH: I read Lance Armstrong's book about his comeback from cancer and listened to other people's tales of when they were injured. There are lots of people who have had broken backs and various other injuries and still come back.

I think being at this level in a sport you are going to suffer from any sort of illness or injury during your career but to be able to bounce back from that is definitely worth pursuing.

RYG: Do you think stories like yours, and Lance Armstrong's, are like a beacon of hope to people so that can go out and they can achieve things that they maybe thought they couldn't before?

EH: I think so but you don't have to have a major setback or injury to come back, anybody with any disability who sets their mind to it can do an awful lot.

RYG: What advice would you give to able-bodied and disabled people who want to get involved in sports?

EH: Just do whatever you fancy doing. Gather information, approach sports councils, go to your local sports centres, gyms, athletics centres and velodromes, and find out what's going on. Then just take it from there. Friends and family will give you encouragement. It's all out there, you just need to find it.


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