After competing in two successive Paralympic Games in London and Rio in wheelchair athletics, Mel Nicholls found herself looking for a new challenge.
Her athletics career had brought significant success. Alongside her successive Paralympic Games appearances she also won a world championships silver medal in the 1500m, silver and bronze medals at European championship level and a world record in the T34 1500m.
Having grown up loving cycling as a child, Nicholls started to explore whether she could make the switch to cycling and earlier this year was accepted onto the Great Britain Cycling Team as part of the new podium potential group on the para-cycling programme.
Nicholls, who suffered a series of strokes which left her with paralysis, cited that the love of riding her bike combined with starting a new four year cycle made it the right time to seek a new challenge.
“I’ve always loved riding my bike. When I was a child I just used to go out on the lanes on my bike all day for as long as I could. I used to do it as cross training, as part of my rehab and I just thought in the first year of a four year cycle that it was the right time to try something else. I just wanted to see how far I could take riding my bike and see if I was actually competitive in it.”
She travelled to Belgium for her first event with the team in May and came away with two bronze medals, a performance that Nicholls was pleased with.
“Yeah I didn’t expect that at all. I had literally no idea about racing. I was really nervous going into it and didn’t know what to expect. The point was to go out there and see where I was in the world, so I was really pleased with the performance and to get two bronze medals was definitely a bonus.”
Nicholls competes in handbiking in the H4 classification and as she approaches her second world cup event with the team in Emmen, she says that while medals are a bonus it’s about improving her performance at this early stage.
“I’m still really new to the sport, there’s so much work I’ve got to do. It’s all really new to me having done one competition. There are some great improvements that we can see that are going to be made which is really exciting, so it’s about going into the next two races and just improving on what I’ve done in my own performance.
“It’s been a really great experience and I’m excited to see where I’m going to go next with it. It’s completely different to athletics, but that’s exciting. I feel like I’m new to it all again which is strange after five years in athletics but it’s a good new feeling.”
While Nicholls is clearly still taking things one step at a time, ask her if Tokyo 2020 and selection for a third consecutive Paralympic Games is on her mind, and she is emphatic in her response.
“It’s got to be hasn’t it? It’s got to be up there. I’m definitely going to aim for it.”