Track Cycling

Competing at the Special Olympics isn’t about medals for me, it’s about inspiring others to do the same –

Ella Curtis, a UK cyclist competing in the Special Olympics 2019 in Abu Dhabi
If you don’t show people what’s possible, how will they ever know? (Photo: Tim Curtis)

I’m Ella, I’m 16 years old, and this week I’m flying to Abu Dhabi as part of the Great Britain cycling team in the Special Olympics World Games.

It’s a dream come true to compete internationally and to race on the Formula One track.

I have Down’s Syndrome, and lots of people think that people with disabilities can’t do sport, but I’ve always loved P.E. and am in the top set in a mainstream school. My hobbies are all sporty and active, like swimming, dancing and gymnastics.

But I wasn’t always as confident as I am now.

My dad, brother and sister were really into cycling and when I was younger, I’d want to go out with them on bike rides, but I was always too scared. I’d ride along next to them on a scooter because I wouldn’t want to miss out.



Then a few years ago, I joined the Bradford Disability Cycling Club.

The first time I tried to cycle on my own, I fell off. But I kept going, and the rest all happened really quickly.

I started on a companion cycle, and then moved on to a trike. It took me a while to stop being scared of going fast and overtaking, but I just kept getting better.

I got a gold medal at a national competition in Manchester in 2016, so my head coach said I should try out for the Special Olympics in Sheffield in 2017.

I came home with a silver medal in the 1km timed trial, and a fourth place in the 3km trial.

Ella Curtis, a UK athlete who will be at the Special Olympics 2019 in Abu Dhabi
At least five of my friends – including girls without disabilities and my friends from the Guides – have started cycling after seeing what I’ve been able to do (Photo: Special Olympics GB)

I’ve been training for the 2019 Olympics for an hour every day on the village roads around where I live on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.

The neighbours see me when I’m out and about and shout ‘Go on Ella!’ It gives me a boost to hear them when I’m tired and helps me get up the big hills around where we live.

I suppose Abu Dhabi will be bigger, hotter and sweatier than I’m used to on the Yorkshire roads, with a lot more people, but I know the crowds will help keep me going.

I want to come first and I will try my best, but if I don’t, I won’t be sad because the Special Olympics is about more than the medals, it’s about believing in yourself and supporting others.



I was definitely a lot shyer before I started out, but since I started competing, I’ve given talks in school assemblies about my cycling, I’ve done my Duke of Edinburgh award and I’ve met lots of new people my own age at competitions and through my squad.

I love that it gives me the chance to see new places, have adventures, hang out with my friends and stay in hotels. I love to compete, because I like how it makes me feel about myself – proud.

I think some girls are put off sport because they don’t think they will be good at it. But then they see me competing and think, well if Ella can do it, maybe I could give it a go.

At least five of my friends – including girls without disabilities and my friends from the Guides – have started cycling after seeing what I’ve been able to do.

One girl with Down’s Syndrome and her mum once came up to me at the National Games in Sheffield and said ‘Are you Ella?’

It turned out they’d seen me talking about cycling on TV and had driven to the Games just to meet me, so that she could see if cycling might be something she could do too. It’s nice to think that she might be cycling now because of me.


I think people were shocked that a teenage girl with Down’s Syndrome can represent her country through sport. I hope it makes young girls see that you can do anything if you believe in yourself. If you don’t show people what’s possible, how will they ever know?

I’ve got a big family flying out to Abu Dhabi to cheer me on. My dad has a lifetime of cycling experience but I know he’ll be the one who’s nervous when we get there.

As for me, I’ve got my race face on! When it’s race time, I’ll just go for it.

Ella wrote this piece with the help of her dad, Tim.

Follow the Special Olympics World Games at

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