This post is part of the blog tour for the book. Thank you to Unbound and Random Things Tours for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
This easy-to-read book follows two Olympic hopefuls as they prepare for Tokyo 2020. Jess Leyden faces the struggles of working in an ever-changing team made up of personalities that are not always complementary. Hannah Dines battles to reach the overly harsh targets set out by British Cycling, while a potentially inaccurate classification leaves her competing against those with far fewer physical challenges. Both women show huge determination as they balance training with study and work.
The writing style is relaxed, creating the feeling that a friend is telling you the story, which makes you feel close to its subjects. There is a candidness that brings to the fore the bureaucracy that can make an already intense situation much worse, and generally conveys the level of commitment and sacrifice needed to stand a chance of success. It was surprising to learn about the way British Cycling and British Rowing treat the athletes that come under their umbrella. It’s no great secret that competing at the highest level is an intense and often lonely experience, but there’s also a perception that athletes are nurtured by their teams. This often seems to be far from the truth, and for Hannah especially, their endless changes of priority threw off her training regime as she tried to meet their demands, before realising that her energy would be better spent elsewhere.
It will come as no surprise to any readers in 2021 that the pandemic significantly impacted their journey to the Olympics. Both were faced with the challenges of not being able to train, becoming isolated, and making decisions not to bend the rules in order to get back to some semblance of normality. Having spent so much of their young lives in focused preparation for competing professionally, the sudden emptiness of their days was a sharp shock. Knowing that they only have a short window of time in which to achieve their dreams meant watching the time pass idly came with additional stress.
This is an interesting read that opens up the world of sport beyond the events we see on TV. It highlights how much work goes into every race, how many people are involved behind the scenes, and the very real financial challenges that can end careers before they really get off the ground. Coming to this as someone who doesn’t particularly follow sport, there was still a lot to enjoy. I closed the book with a huge amount of respect not just for Jess and Hannah, but for everyone who embarks on their own journey in the field.