Emily’s ride to the top

In the ‘cycle’ of life, Emily has experienced both incredible successes and incredible challenges.

The award- and medal-winning Paralympian was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2007 after experiencing numbness throughout her whole body. She was just 27.

“It was really shocking and, honestly, pretty confronting because I didn’t really know anything about the disease,” Emily says.

“I certainly didn’t understand what anything was going to look like and no one could really tell me what would happen – maybe because it’s so different for every person.

“It was really hard; you lose your identity really, in a day, and you just don’t know what’s coming next. It was really scary I guess.”

Before the diagnosis, Emily was a successful business consultant, with a university degree, and was very fit and healthy.

When the disease took hold, her life turned upside down.

“The first few years were really tough because the disease is pretty aggressive with me,” Emily says.

“I was in and out of hospital getting treatment for relapses because I was having them fairly regularly, and the treatment when you have a relapse is generally a steroid on a drip.”

“You feel pretty crap from that and you also put on a fair bit of weight, and I also wasn’t able to exercise for the first time in my life.

“I was a rower when I was younger and I had always maintained a really high level of fitness even after I’d stopped rowing.”

It was Olympic rower Matt Ryan, who Emily met working at a school rowing program, that inspired her to get back into exercise, in a way she never thought possible.

“I explained to him all the trouble I’d had with trying to get back into doing some sort of exercise and how unsuccessful everything had been,” Emily says.

“I asked for his help to work out exactly what I might be able to do and how we could potentially work it.

“And he said, ‘What can you do; what are the things that do work?’”

“And I said, ‘Irrespective of whether or not I can feel my legs, I can actually turn them over on a bike, even if I don’t feel what’s going on.’”

From then on, Emily discovered para-cycling, a sport that would take her to the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021 where she won gold for track cycling and silver for road cycling.

“It was really emotional because it had been such a big journey,” Emily says.

“There were so many people who supported me in that process of re-finding myself and re-establishing the person who I am today.

It was a really good reward for the people who’d done a lot of hard work to get me to that point.”

Since then, Emily has gone from strength to strength with the sport, including being named Female Para-Athlete of the Year in 2022 at the AIS Sport Performance Awards.

In January, Emily won both her road time trial and road race in the first round of the 2024 Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Para-Cycling Road World Cup.

Emily is now looking to the Paris Paralympics in August for her next big challenge – to win 2 gold medals.

“Paris selection won’t start until about 6 weeks before the games,” Emily says.

“I’ve hit all the benchmarks and have done everything I can possibly do in terms of the selection perspective.

“Officially I can’t be selected until June/July but it looks good at this stage.”

Beyond that, Emily has some decisions to consider.

“I’ve got to weigh up the cost for both my health and my life, of sport, because it is a really big sacrifice,” Emily says.

“You’re sacrificing things all the time in both health and life to be able to do sport at the top level.

“I’ll make that decision after I get through the games.

“And that’s going to inform every other decision I make at that point.

“Ultimately, the aim is to be happy and healthy for as long as I can be.”