Novice to world champion in 5 years

December 21 2016

EMMA Sainsbury-Munn had never been a cyclist, preferring to spend her time in the gym.


EMMA Sainsbury-Munn had never been a cyclist, preferring to spend her time in the gym.

A rib injury in 2011 put paid to a prospective career as a fitness model, limiting her sporting choices.

"My chiropractor told me I could either swim, bike or run," said 46-year-old Emma.

Most people would concentrate on just one of the three options - not Emma.

"I thought I'd do a triathlon but I hadn't swam or ridden a bike for 20 years."

After an intensive nine-week training jaunt, Emma entered a novice women-only competition only to discover swimming wasn't her forte.

"I couldn't even swim a length but in nine weeks I managed to learn to swim the 16 lengths needed for the competition without stopping. However it was in an open water lake - completely different to a swimming pool. I dived in and started swimming but then all these women started swimming over me. I was like Orka the whale splashing around and was last out of the water. It made me determined to get them on the bike."

Emma's determination saw her come ninth overall but first in her age group and, more importantly, third fastest on a bike.

"That really encouraged me so I joined a cycle club. I got dropped every single weekend but I was determined not to give up."

Her then coach, Chris Davis, also happened to be a track coach and suggested Emma give the track a go.

After much deliberation, in March 2012 Emma, who has an 11-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter, visited Wales National Velodrome, Newport where she hired a track bike.

"I took one look at the bank and thought 'Oh my god!'

"I didn't think I'd ever get up there as it looked so steep. As I went round, I was thoroughly enjoying myself - I couldn't take the smile off my face."

She went back week after week and started training with Janet Birkmyre, a multi-elite and Masters Champion.

"She's an amazing woman and a great mentor. With her and Chris shouting and barking at me every week to keep up and train harder, I made sure I did!"

In June 2012 at the age of 42, just three months after Emma started training, she put herself up against Janet at the National Track Championships, taking silver in the Pursuit.

"I just couldn't believe it. It was amazing. Chris told me I wouldn't 'podium' so I just thought, 'Oh, yes I will.'

"I knew I was never going to beat Janet because she's amazing but it was great trying to chase her!"

In the September further glory was to beckon when Emma entered the Welsh Open and Closed Team Sprint, gaining gold with her team mate Siobhan Mullen and silver in the Team Pursuit.

The following month Emma bagged gold in the Pursuit at the World Masters Track Championships.

"Yet again I was told by my coach I would get a podium place as I was up against world class cyclists! I actually beat my Australian opponent by six seconds. I was quite chuffed with that!"

More recently, in October 2016, Emma took two golds at the LVRC (League of Veterans Racing Cyclists) National Track Championships in the Sprint and 500mTime Trial, as well as a silver in the Scratch race.

Emma, who trains six days a week, is keen to encourage more women to take up the sport she calls 'exhilarating'.

"We need more women entering track cycling over the age of 40.

"If you like cycling and want to try something different, it's something that will increase your level of fitness and the more you practise the better you'll get at it. You learn so many different tactics. It's also a way of meeting other like-minded people."

It will involve travelling however, with Newport boasting the nearest velodrome to Bristol but there are numerous sessions available from family tasters to veteran and youth drop-ins and you can hire bikes or bring your own along.

"It's only a half hour journey across the bridge and it can be quite affordable," said Emma.

And if you think you're too old to take up a new sport?

"Age is certainly not a barrier," said Emma.

"There is one lady whose husband was an ex-professional cyclist who took up cycling this year at the age of 55. She actually took gold in the Sprints. We couldn't believe it; everyone was screaming in encouragement."

Emma, who is now concentrating on Sprint events, has no plans to retire any time soon, juggling her family life, her carer as a care assistant and her time on the track.

"My husband Paul is really great so thankfully I'm able to train at Newport at weekends. My coach is fantastic and makes sure my training doesn't take up family time.

"I'm going to carry on competing. I want to be the best I can possibly be."

Emma has her sights set on another gold in 2017's National Masters.

"I got silver this year and that was the first time I did matching sprinting. I've now got myself a proper Sprint coach, Pete Mitchell, who is a double world record holder so I'm in really good hands. My chances are looking good as long as I keep improving and my health stays good - fingers crossed!"

 Emma is currently self-funded but is looking to find a sponsor. If you are interested in sponsoring a local athlete competing at World Masters level, you can get in touch with Emma by emailing