Dedication, determination and hard work can pay off….The Jennifer George story

Tour of Omagh Pink Jersey “Another Step in the Right Direction”

Behind many sporting achievements there’s a story waiting to be told. For Jennifer George the winner of the Pink Jersey at this year’s tour of Omagh its one of courage, guts and determination.

Shaun Mc Bride caught up with George to discuss her initial journey to cycling and success, the horrors of injury and recuperation in 2017, a fresh start in 2018, and the personal achievement and significance of her victory in the 2018 Tour of Omagh.

As a teenager and young adult her focus was firmly on four legs with equestrian disciplines like showing and dressage meaning long weekends on the road to all parts of the UK. Such was her competence and no doubt her competitiveness, at these disciplines that she competed at the top level and in some of the biggest events in the UK. Her transition to bike racing was to follow much later. By her own admission she has always been sporting, a degree in sport science and qualifications as a fitness instructor a natural progression.  It’s by this path that the real story begins. After marriage and travelling she settled down in London and through her work as a fitness instructor was introduced to Triathlon and like everything she attempts, she approaches with a drive to be the best. Her struggles in the water though helped shape her future in Cycling and it was in 2012 that she began cycling in earnest.  In 2013 her focus was the Etape D’Tour and Etape du Dales. In August 2013 after a little bit of encouragement by a friend she competed in her first race. I suspect then that she was hooked.After joining local club Dulwich Paragon in 2013 she made her way swiftly through the ranks to become a Cat 1 rider.  In 2014 George competed in her first National Championships and laughs now as the memories off being lapped by Lizzie Deignan and other such cycling royalty, a feat they will struggle to do now as she tends to finish in the bunch with them. George still speaks fondly of Dulwich Paragon the club who set her on her way and looked after her so well, but she also knew that to go further she needed to be in a cycling team. And so it was in 2015 she joined Les Filles Racing Team which lead to some success in that year. She was also able to guest ride for another team and gain valuable experience racing in Belgium something she describes as “an experience in a million”2016 was to be her best year to date. After joining the drops team she was to ride a number of UCI events including the women’s tours of California and GB and includes a Seventh place finish in the Women’s Tour De Yorkshire. In June of 2016 George was to finish 5th in the British Championships in a group including Hannah and Alice Barnes. These performances were to earn her a place on the new Storey team headed up by Dame Sarah Storey for 2017. In just three short years George had achieved much and looked to be on a real upward progression destined for the top. Unfortunately in 2017 the progression was to take a back seat to be replaced by injury and frustration. An innocuous crash in a tour series race in May was to trigger a series of events that would have broken many an athlete but not George. Despite pain and with approval of doctors and physios she continued to race but not to the level she wanted.  It was then that she underwent a test for bone density for a TV program which identified some issues in particular that she has lost around a kilo of muscle in her left leg. A follow up MRI generated a diagnosis of some serious issues in her left leg and as a fitness instructor she instinctively knew how bad it was. She was prescribed complete rest and spent most of July – September 2017 on the sofa with her feet up. A set of crutches helped her keep up with some of her clients. George though wasn’t willing to sit around feeling sorry for herself, and while laid up spent this time qualifying as a British cycling coach, further engrossing herself in the sport she so obviously loves. It was in September 2017 that the road to recovery and a possible return to competitive cycling began in earnest. An initial consultation with a surgeon indicated that major surgery with all the associated risk was required, with the possibility that after such surgery cycling may not be possible at the level she had been to previously. Undeterred she sought a second opinion, this surgeon painted a bleak picture – have this surgery and you might never walk properly again never mind cycle. Faced with this reality George made the brave decision to not have surgery and instead turned to her physio to assist with her rehabilitation. This Rehabilitation began in September with 2 or 3 sessions every week and continued until the end of 2017. George headed to Arizona in Jan of this year for some warm weather training and then returned to racing. Her progress in 2018 has been measured; she has ridden the Tour of Yorkshire and finished in the top twenty in the BG national Championships just eight seconds behind the winner. She talks of 2018 as being a year of rebuilding and pushing herself to see what was possible. She has taken 2018 in stages, with key targets to meet along the way. This weekend in Omagh she achieved another one of those. On Sunday she stood on the top step of the podium winning the Spar Tour Of Omagh, something she is immensely proud off. He team mate at Torelli-Brother –Assure, Alice Sharpe had competed in 2017, winning the pink jersey and had recommended the race. When a place became available in the TC Racing Team, George had no difficulty in accepting, it was to be another important step on the road to recovery.

“Physically I was in good shape before the weekend” she explained “but mentally I was still fragile, this weekend was a huge boost for my confidence especially my performance on the stage on Friday evening”

“I enjoyed the racing particularly the Sunday Stage as the Cycling Leinster Girls were determined to make it a real race after the groups merged. The climb in the last 10K was super tough as I chased after Lara Gillespie, it was a real test but one I was up for”

For the Host Club Omagh Wheelers she has nothing but praise

“The Spar Tour of Omagh is a fantastic three days of racing, in a field of quality riders, the addition of a handicapping system to involve all abilities, adds to the race and gives an incentive to encourage more women take part. The riders are so well looked after in all ways, it’s a brilliant event” She also has words of encouragement for her fellow competitors especially the two junior riders who won three stages between them. “The girls I raced against were brilliant pushed us as a team all the way, they did themselves and their teams proud, created a fantastic race. The two juniors Lara and Clodagh are exceptional young riders and I have no doubt they could hold their own in any race in the UK, for them to progress now they must aim higher, The Tour Of Omagh has given them that important step on the ladder.Finally she sends out a message to all women want to go bike racing

“Join a Club, learn the skills, cycle with those who will make you better and above all give it a go”

So I believe this star to be on the rise again, and as we spoke, I couldn’t help but be impressed with her enthusiasm and commitment to cycling and like the rest of my cycling friends In Omagh I look forward to following the progress of the new “Darling of the Tour of Omagh” For George the season is almost over, she will finish racing at the end of August and begin her preparations for 2019. We in Omagh hope that will include our little race in July

Report courtesy of Shaun Mc Bride (PR Omagh Wheelers & Ulster Youth Commission)