Lifestyle | 22 March 2024

“Excellence means never settling for where

you are.” – Victoria Pendleton CBE

Triple Olympic gold medallist cyclist turned champion jockey Victoria Pendleton CBE explains how she found the courage and resilience to realise her greatest sporting achievement – after she’d hung up her wheels.

Having become a three-time Olympic champion, Victoria made the incredible decision to become a jockey. She identifies her fifth place at Cheltenham as her greatest achievement after being told that a woman of her age simply could not do it.

But what drove her to make such a significant sporting switch?

“Many people told me it was impossible and I should steer well clear of trying to ride horses,” she says. “However, I’m not one to be dissuaded from someone throwing down the gauntlet.

“I thought ‘I’m going to give it a two-week trial and see how I feel’. I knew instantly within ten minutes, with the way the horses smell, the way they look and their presence and energy. I was in love instantly, I felt sick with excitement, so I thought ‘I’m going to give it my best shot’.”


Changing lanes

Though the inspiration and drive to succeed on horseback were clearly there, was it easy to find transferable skills to take from her cycling career into horseracing?

Victoria points to the core strength and natural balance she’d picked up on her bike, but also how “coachable” she was.

She says, “Because I’d had a lifetime in a coaching environment, I was able to take a lot on board and we could accelerate the speed of progression.

“I felt quite proud of that. It meant I could do anything, but not only that, I was able to manage my fear. I have an ability when it counts to stay calm and focus on the objectives and not get carried away with the energy, the excitement and the nerves. That’s something I definitely couldn’t have completed had I not had a previous career in sport.”

Her career change was still beset with difficulties though, not least in switching from the highly technical and controlled environment of the velodrome to suddenly managing a 600kg thoroughbred.

“You have to relinquish control,” says Victoria. “You can’t force it. It’s a partnership and you have to be quietly persuasive and hope for the best. You can’t communicate with your partner in the same way.”


“Courage is my word”

Having complemented her plethora of cycling medals with racing trophies and a famous fifth place in Cheltenham’s prestigious Foxhunter Chase, what does she say to other elite athletes looking to change fields?

“I probably underestimated the amount of transferable skills I had,” she says. “But for all the opportunities I’ve had, the sports I’ve tried and the challenges I’ve attempted, I realise that a lot of it’s to do with mental mindset resilience. It’s probably more in your head than it is in the rest of your body. Believe in that. Believe that you have something that can be malleable in many ways.”

Victoria points to a major turning point in her post-cycling career that galvanised that realisation. While working with legendary Team GB equestrian coach Yogi Breisner, she received the accolade ‘courageous’.

“I’d never been called courageous before, I thought ‘that’s a big word for a small me,’” she says. “Then I thought about it and tried it on, and it was something I’ve really embraced moving forward through my life.”

“What is courage? You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to deserve it. You don’t have to be born with it. It’s there if you want it. So, if you change your mindset, you can achieve a lot more than you can possibly imagine. Courage is my word.”   

So, what does excellence mean to someone who has had the courage to break comfort zones and consistently take on new challenges?

“Excellence means never settling for where you are. Always striving to be better, never for one moment resting on your laurels.”


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