At 22 Jessica Varnish is one of the most promising young talents of the British Track Cycling Team, already claiming a world record and world champion bronze medal. Healthista’s Sports Editor Adele Norris meets her
‘I was about five or six when I started mountain biking,’ Jess says: ‘My dad is a cyclist too and I gradually started racing more and more but I have always loved dancing too.’
Jess began training on the bike at 12 years old.
By 14 she competed unofficially at the 2006 Junior World Championships in Belgium where she set a new time of 37.1 seconds of the British 500m standing start record.
‘You take part in several types of competition, BMX, track, endurance and so on,’ she said.
From here you focus your training on the area you achieve well in but enjoy also. By 13 Jess was training as a track cyclist.
‘I really enjoyed the endurance and the track, but I seemed to do slightly better as a track cyclist.’
For this sport she was selected for the British Cycling’s Olympic Development Programme. At 17 Jess was year junior of the rest of the programme’s cyclists.
She said: ‘I think I got into the programme a year ahead because they (British Cycling) could see there was a potential in track and they wanted me to focus on that over other cycling like the endurance which I also enjoyed.’
But Jess said she didn’t struggle being a year younger than the other athletes in the development programme:
‘It was intense at times, I still had to keep up with studying and fit training into the other hours in the day around school.’
In her free time Jess also attended camping trips. She said it is thanks to these that she could maintain interest in other sports and live a normal teenage life.
‘I’m really grateful that I could go to the camps as well as train because they gave me a sense of my own life still, I had sleepovers and went to parties, and I continued to do ballet from the age of 2-16.’
Today Jess trains with Olympic and world champion Victoria Pendleton.
‘It’s a big push working with Vicky,’ She said.
But is it daunting knowing you need to follow in her footsteps?
‘It certainly pushes me to be faster and is a great pointer to compare my own times too, but we support each other massively, she is a good friend.’
Jess competed alongside Victoria in the team sprint at both the London 2012 Olympic Game’s and the 2012 ICU Track Cycling World Cup.
On February 18th in the new Olympic Velodrome the girls broke the world record of the women’s team sprint taking gold.
Just months later they broke the record again in the qualifying stages of the 2012 Olympic Game’s. They were relegated in the semi finals.
‘The Olympics was just amazing,’ Jess said: ‘It wasn’t just the Games, but the journey to them as well. The media interest was crazy, and the competitions were the most intense I had experienced.’
Jess described the home games as having ‘much more attention to detail’ than she had seen before.
‘From where we were staying, to the media attention and training, our treatment throughout the whole journey has got me anticipating the next games,’ she said: ‘I have a lot to take from 2012, some big targets and I can really appreciate the work we put in to reaching them.’
And Jess knows better than anyone how important the hard work is following an injury which put her out of action for four months.
‘I tore a disc. It really made me noticed the impact my diet has in my training. I pretty much wasted away.’
Jess said her diet focuses mainly on calories: ‘I had to get quite a bit bigger for the sport. It’s all about power on the bike.’
‘You have to really go for it every day and as a female it’s hard to go out to every session and attack it. You have to think as if you’ve had a bad day and take it out on the track.’
Following the injury Jess began to get back into shape by take up Pilates.
‘My motivation today is actually remembering my injury. I appreciate now how easy it is to be fit and well and won’t take it for granted.’
‘I also think a balanced diet is really important. My top tip is to have a protein shake after every session, some people won’t have one every time but I always do.’
Jess said another hit of protein before bed is a good idea: ‘Either a shake or sometimes I will have a yogurt.’
Besides training Jess is also currently working with Macmillan Cancer Support’s ‘Big Beautiful Walks’ scheme.
‘It’s a great charity, everyone knows someone who has battled with cancer and this project is a great way for everyone to get together at the same time, no equipment needed.’
You can find out more about the Big Beautiful Walks Scheme here.
Jess is certainly one to watch, with her ambition and drive, and a world champion to train beside she has the power to shine at Rio 2016.
Her advice to others is try everything while you can and do do as many different sports you enjoy as possible.
‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, I look back today, when training is so intense and I am just really glad that I was able to do everything else I enjoyed when I was younger.’
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