Joanna is a retired cyclist who was on the Great Britain Cycling Team. She won gold medals in the Women’s Team pursuit at both the London 2012 Olympics and Rio 2016 Olympics, as well as five World Championship titles. Joanna received her MBE from Queen Elizabeth II in February 2013. Joanna retired from cycling in 2017 and, after obtaining a degree in human biology, became a medical student in 2020. You can often see Joanna on TV screens, providing commentary and punditry for cycling events. 

We were thrilled when Joanna became an ambassador for Alopecia UK in 2014. In this interview, we find out more about her..

Please tell us a little about your experience of alopecia..

I was diagnosed when I was maybe about 8 or 9 years old when I started getting small round bald patches. These used to come and go but I lost all my hair aged 10 when more and more bald patches arrived but didn't grow back. I don't remember how quickly this happened but think it was a relatively gradual process. Since then it has gone through phases of regrowth and then falling out again.

Initially I was upset but I was also quite young, just young enough to not be so concerned about looks but that concern obviously grew as I got older and went to secondary school.

What would you say is the most challenging thing about having alopecia?

I'd say it's the lack of understanding and awareness of the condition, although this has changed a lot in the last 25 years! Alopecia UK has definitely helped to improve things with the charity's awareness efforts. 

Do you believe there are any advantages to having alopecia?

I think there are many! I love that by wearing wigs I can get my hair done in advance of a big event, leave it on a stand and then just put it on when I'm ready. I also love the ease with which I can change my hair length/colour/style.

If you could go back in time to give some advice to your 10 year old self, what would that be?

Honestly I look back and am impressed how well my 10-year-old self coped. Sometimes I think I could do with some of that confidence now. So if anything, it's the other way around. 10-year-old me had a determination to take opportunities and a 'you only live once' attitude!

There was a bit a media storm when you took to the medal podium in London 2012 without a wig or head covering. How was that experience for you?

Honestly it was quite the whirlwind! I look back on that time now and think it was an awful lot to deal with as a 23-year-old, on top of winning the Olympics which was a big deal in itself. I wasn't expecting that level of attention at all so went into it very naively, but at the same time I'd just achieved the huge goal of winning the Olympic gold so anything that was thrown at me felt a walk in the park compared to the pressure of the Olympic preparation.

I found myself being asked a lot of big questions which I didn't have the answers to and it forced me to try to answer those questions for myself at the same time as being in the media spotlight. But I was so honoured to have so many messages from people all over the world who either had alopecia themselves or a loved one with alopecia, so that made it all worthwhile. 

Why is it important for you to be an Alopecia UK Ambassador?

I want to do my bit to help increase awareness and understanding of alopecia but also to connect with other people with the condition which helps me as well.

You’ve been an AUK ambassador since 2014. What do you enjoy the most about being part of this charity? 

The annual Alton Towers trip is always a highlight and it's been a delight to see the event grow so much over the years. I look forward to it every year and it was so nice to see everyone in 2022 after missing a couple of years due to COVID.

What advice would you give to any young people wanting to compete at the top-level in their chosen sport?

Enjoy it! Consistency is key, so you need to enjoy the day to day process of training as much as the thrill of racing and winning. If you find you're not enjoying it, take a step back or try a different sport or a different discipline within that sport. 

Focus on the controllables - don't focus on other opponents and their progress. Keep plugging away at your training and your goals.

Don't neglect psychological prep - read some books on sports psychology and learn how to deal with nerves on the day of competition. There's no one size fits all approach, but the more you explore this when young, the better equipped you will be at bigger competitions. 

What advice would you give to anyone struggling with their alopecia?

Connect with a support group and chat to others, but I understand this can feel like a huge step. If attending a support group feels too daunting then use social media. We know social media can get a bad reputation for being a highlights reel, but I've found it so useful to connect with people with alopecia and explore things like wigs, make up etc and overall a very positive and safe space to share experiences. I think this is the biggest change now to 25 years ago when I lost my hair as a 10-year-old.

Thanks to Joanna for sharing her story. Find out more about all our Ambassadors here.