Maddi Aldam-Gates is now a promising cyclist after the nationwide lockdown switched her focus away from swimming. She is now prospering as a member of Dame Sarah Storey’s cycling academy
Image: Doug Peters / PA Wire)
At the start of 2020, swimming was very much the focus for Maddi Aldam-Gates.
The now 19-year-old was competing at the national level, with a bronze medal at the English nationals under her belt, but that all came to a sudden halt when the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the UK. As the country entered its first nationwide lockdown in March 2020 lives were altered dramatically, including that of Aldam-Gates.
With the restrictions now in place to tackle the virus it meant she could no longer compete or train thanks to swimming pool closures. But, rather than ponder what might have been during that turbulent time, the Wiltshire athlete, currently studying at Durham University, decided to go on bike rides with her dad.
That was what lit the spark on her journey to where she finds herself now, a member of the ŠKODA DSI Cycling Academy and learning from the academy’s principal – Paralympic legend Dame Sarah Storey.
“I just loved being outdoors,” says Aldam-Gates during the academy’s testing day at the velodrome at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. “I loved going places rather than just staring at the ceiling or the floor or the wall.
“You see so much of your local area. You can travel with it as well and see more of England and your surroundings, you can get further than if you’re running. That’s how I got into it and I never really looked back. ”
“I’ve been chosen for a reason, let’s see where we can take it”
Doug Peters / PA Wire)
The ŠKODA DSI Cycling Academy exists for a reason, to support aspiring female cyclists and address the gender imbalance in the sport. It’s a challenge so many women’s sports face but the opportunity that being a member has given Aldam-Gates is already shining through.
“I applied not really anticipating getting chosen at all,” she explains. “It was just, ‘this looks amazing, I’ll do it!’ Then coming here and getting selected, at that point I thought I could actually be good at this. I’ve been chosen for a reason, let’s see where we can take it. ”
She continues: “I was already loving cycling and enjoying it before that, but getting chosen gave me that urge and boost of confidence that I needed to be able to just really go for it. Having the support, the support structure, having Dame Sarah Storey as a mentor, having the other girls around me, it just gives you that boost that you need to enter races, which is a massively daunting prospect at the start when you’ve never done a road race.
“You see road races happening on TV, you’re very close, there’s hundreds of people that you might not be used to. It is a massive step and being in this gave me the little push that I needed to just go for it and not be afraid. ”
“We all know we should have equal opportunities to men anyway …”
Doug Peters / PA Wire)
For one who is just at the start of her cycling journey, Aldam-Gates ’passion for sport, and pushing women’s sport, filters through in the conversation. As someone trying to push in a discipline where opportunities aren’t as widespread, the opportunity of the academy is not lost on her in the slightest.
“I’ve already seen some of the girls exchanging contact details, even if they don’t get chosen from today they’ll have met 15 other female cyclists,” she says. “We’re quite a few and far between, I was talking to lots of them, and we don’t tend to have many female cyclists associated in our local areas.
“It’s a sport dominated by white middle class men of about aged 40 upwards – that’s kind of the norm. It is great to cycle with a range of people but having that support structure for girls, like us, like each other, to just interact with, it’s a really great opportunity.
“It simply came to our notice then [the academy] exists. They’re trying to up the involvement in cycling, trying to really push participation because there’s no reason why girls and women shouldn’t be doing it to the same professional level as men. It just has taken time to get to this point and we still need to progress further but things like this – that Dame Sarah Storey has really kindly and is admirably running, and ŠKODA’s role in it as well – we need things like this to really up the game.
“We all know we should have equal opportunities to men anyway but because we don’t always, with this kind of thing, we just feel so lucky to have it. It’s the kind of thing that just needs to continue and be pushed even further. ”
Maddi Aldam-Gates is a member of the ŠKODA DSI Cycling Academy that was set up to support aspiring female cyclists and address the gender imbalance in cycling. For more information visit www.skoda.co.uk/discover/cycling-academy