Mountain biker Gillian overcomes diagnosis to win world title

Gillian Pratt (Kirkcaldy) on her bike. Pic: Pammie B Photography
Gillian Pratt (Kirkcaldy) on her bike. Pic: Pammie B Photography

Kirkcaldy superwoman Gillian Stewart has overcome adversity to become a world champion mountain biker after completing a gruelling 24 hour race in Italy at the start of the month.

The 34-year-old was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, a condition that causes the thyroid problems, last year and symptoms can include debilitating fatigue.

Gillian wearing her WEMBO World Champion t-shirt.

Gillian wearing her WEMBO World Champion t-shirt.

But that did not stop the determined Team Leslie Bike Shop cyclist from competing at the WEMBO 2017 World MTB 24 Hour Championships in Finale Ligure, where she finished first in her category, and 14th overall, to claim a world title.

“It was possibly a silly thing to do but I wanted to prove that it wouldn’t beat me ,” Gillian told the Press.

“All the symptoms that come with an under-active thyroid can be quite frustrating, but I was determined not to let it stop me.

“Training leading up to it was difficult and I was thinking I hadn’t done enough.

“I was also worried about tiredness and that I might fall asleep on my bike, but I think the adrenalin kept me going.

“At one point I thought it wasn’t going to happen, but I’m glad I persevered because now I’ve got a world championship medal and t-shirt to show for it. It’s a great feeling.”

It is Gillian’s second victorious 24 hour race.

Racing under her maiden name, Pratt, she also finished first in the women’s category at the Strathpuffer 24 in the Scottish Highlands in January 2015. The conditions on this occasion could not have been more different.

“There was a bit more sunshine, and a lot less darkness!” Gillian explained.

“It was the complete opposite end of the scale. It was 33 degrees at one point in afternoon, roasting compared to minus 10 when I did the Strathpuffer.

“There were 17 hours of darkness at Strathpuffer, and only eight this time, and that made a big difference.

“It was a lot better for the mind, although the intense heat made it harder during the day – that and my fair skin!

“I just kept telling myself ‘only a few hours more then it will be cooler at tea time’, but it was still in the 20s.

“I just had to make sure I kept taking in plenty fluids and electrolytes.

“I spent a week training in Mallorca leading up to it and that helped, but I’m definitely more used to cycling in Scottish weather!”

Gillian, who works as an office supervisor at U Pull It in Inverkeithing, admitted she did not travel to Italy expecting to win the world title.

“I was only focused on completing it,” she said.

“I didn’t even know I was winning until morning time.

“All through the night I said I didn’t want to know my position because I couldn’t go any faster, so I just kept going,.

“It wasn’t until 8.00am, a couple of hours before the finish, when one of the guys said to me that I was 10 laps ahead. It was a nice surprise.”

The former Kirkcaldy High School pupil took up competitive cycling in her late 20s and has also claimed two Scottish Masters titles, as well as a British Masters gold medal, racing for Team Leslie Bike Shop.