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Megan Barker: How sport helped her overcome shyness

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She’s a World Champion and is hoping to be selected for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games this summer, alongside big sister Elinor.

But cyclist Megan Barker says that the sport’s not just given her a professional career, it has taught her the importance of hard work and has given her confidence.

She was just seven years old when she discovered cycling. She and Elinor would head to Maindy Pool in Cardiff for swimming lessons and they’d pass the velodrome:

“There were always so many kids flying around the track. I really wanted to give it a go but I made my big sister go with me. I was always quite shy!

Soon, Maindy was a home from home:

“Tuesday night, it was a road bike session,” explains Megan. “Thursday, we’d be on the track. On Saturday, depending on the weather, we’d be in the workshop, on the rollers or developing skills through games. It was really good fun.”

The coach who believed in her

It wasn’t long before they were excelling in the mini leagues and one coach, in particular, played a crucial part in their development:

“My parents weren’t cyclists so we all suddenly had a lot to learn. Alan Davies was really important during that time. He ran most of the sessions, but he’d also help us source equipment. 

"We bought most of our bikes on ebay and he’d find us a good deal and send them to my Dad. It meant we didn’t have to fork out for brand new bikes. He helped fix our bikes too but, most of all, he always truly believed in me. And that’s really important to have someone, outside of your family, that has that confidence in you.

“He instilled in me a strong work ethic and good values.”

Sister act

As time went on, the sisters would enter bigger races in the national series. The family would pile in the campervan and drive to wherever the race was staged that weekend. 

“It was like we had a mini holiday every weekend. While my friends were arguing with their siblings, we were bonding. We had this shared thing that we did together. And we helped each other.

“El was always a couple of steps ahead because she’s three years older. She always did the scary bits first,” laughs Meg.

Elinor and Megan Barker show off their Gold medals
Megan Barker (right) with her sister Elinor. Images: SW Pix
In terms of professional sport, if you really hyperfocus on one sport when you’re young, I think you’re less likely to continue doing it as an adult.
Megan Barker

Dropping out

Of course, racing every weekend while your friends are out shopping and enjoying sleepovers, can make you question your decisions. And at the age of 13, Megan dropped out of cycling altogether:

“I felt left out and wanted to go shopping on a Saturday,” she laughs. “But I came back a year later. I realised sport was so much better than spending the day in town. But I’m glad I had that time away because when I returned, I knew I wanted to do this as a job.”

While she gave athletics a try with Newport Harriers, she believes that doing even more sports would have helped her overcome her shyness sooner.

“I definitely wish I did more sports when I was younger. When I started doing the athletics, I was really shy. It took me a while to actually go. I knew all my cycling friends at Maindy and my big sister was there but with the athletics, I didn’t even want to do the warm up. I had to push myself a little bit socially which was important.”

Megan also believes that trying out lots of sport and taking part to enjoy yourself when you’re young can benefit you as an athlete: 

“In terms of professional sport, if you really hyperfocus on one sport when you’re young, I think you’re less likely to continue doing it as an adult. Enjoyment of sport helps you with longevity in one particular sport.”

Welsh riders on the world stage

Last year, Megan was part of the gold medal winning Team Pursuit at the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, the Paris Olympics are drawing ever closer and Welsh cycling fans can look forward to a good representation of British riders that have come through the Welsh system.

Currently on the Podium level of the British Cycling World Class Programme, which is supported by UK Sport and the National Lottery, four of the eight riders are Welsh.

“The velodrome at Maindy and Carmarthen – and then Newport obviously - have had a big impact in bringing riders through. Welsh Cycling has its own leagues, regional omniums, and championships, and that gives young riders lots of opportunities without having to travel too far. 

“Plus, Welsh Cycling is always really good at supporting those riders who may not have yet made it onto British Cycling programme, so it gives you a bit of extra time.”

Why is sport important?

“I just can’t imagine cycling not being a part of my life. Growing up, it made me a good, happy kid with good values. Sport helps you to meet lots of people and it really helped me overcome my shyness.

“It made me resilient because things often go wrong and you have to deal with it. Sport gives you that sense of achievement, at whatever level you’re at.”

 

Are you a young rider looking to develop your skills and gain racing experience? Find out how Welsh Cycling can help you.

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