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Robyn Stewart

Discipline: Track
Gender: Female
Date of Birth: 10/04/1990
Born: Belfast
Lives: Manchester
Team:

Robyn StewartEverything is coming full circle for Robyn Stewart in 2018. It was only four years ago that she accompanied her husband at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. She was merely a spectator then and could only watch on as her husband, a coach in the Scotland track cycling team, did his job.

Now, this April in Gold Coast, Australia, Stewart will be at the Commonwealth Games once more, but this time she will be on the track herself lining out in the green jersey of Northern Ireland competing in the sprint event. It will be a landmark moment in her astronomical ascent as a track cyclist, a journey that remarkably only began after those Glasgow games in 2014.


It was 2015 by the time Robyn bought her first track bike, but the sport appealed to her immediately “it’s a bit of a thrill I suppose when you first try it, it’s a bit scary and you’re going fast. It’s a very different experience to anything I’ve experienced before.

While Stewart was a novice cyclist, she did have an elite level sporting background, being a National League hockey player in England. However, when she took up cycling she felt she could no longer balance the two, “cycling didn’t affect my hockey but when I played hockey it was affecting my cycling” she explains.

This transition to only cycling was not an easy one though, as Stewart missed the comradery of the sport she left behind “I’ve always come from playing a team sport either field hockey or football, and when you’re sprinting you’re on your own, so I miss the craic from being on a team”.

Her hockey-playing past did, however, provide hints that Robyn may be ideally suited to the sprint events “I’m definitely more strength than endurance, and I was that way when I was a hockey player. I was a striker so I would run fast and then recover, run fast and recover. Physically I’m more built like a sprinter”.

Her decision to dedicate herself fully to the sport was paying off, and within six months of first sliding into the saddle, she was called up to the Scotland squad as she was living there at the time. The Belfast native though always held the ambition to compete for Ireland, and after fulfilling the necessary criteria, she made the switch.

Since her move, Stewart has been making history becoming the first ever Irish woman to compete in the sprint at a World Cup last year “It was a great year (2017), I think I counted I went on about 44 flights or something crazy. I travelled lots and raced lots and met lots of people… The first World Cup was my first sort of major event, and I felt so proud to be there and wearing the Irish kit”. 

She is  the current National Champion in the sprint, 500m TT and the Keirin as well as the holder of two National records, and competing against the best has only served to further Stewart's drive to improve “it inspires you more than anything to see the girls at the absolute top and see where you want to be. Every time I come back from a major event, I’ve come back really eager to get better and eager to train”.

Robyn is based in Manchester, and it is an extremely familiar face who is her coach: Kevin, her husband. Stewart admits that initially, this dynamic was a bit tricky, but she thinks the pair have started to figure it out “I guess there are just two sides to it now, and even when we message each other, we have an athlete and coach WhatsApp and a husband and wife WhatsApp”. Robyn’s brother in law is also a track cyclist in the British program, so the sport is very much an integral part of Stewart family life.

The couple are now well into their preparations for the forthcoming World Championships in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands at the end of February, and indeed for the Commonwealth games themselves. Everything from her diet to training plan is being scrutinised by Stewart in an effort to try and make the most out of her time as an athlete.

However, Stewart also still has a day job as a dentist that she has to balance with her budding sporting career. Fortunately for the 27-year-old, her workplace has been supportive of her cycling and she currently only has to work a day and a half a week on average “I find it quite helps the balance” suggests Stewart, “because I got work on my rest days and I’m not thinking about the track, and I’m not thinking about cycling, which when I’m not at work I’m thinking about cycling”.

In terms of what she is hoping for at the Worlds, Stewart is trying to not put too much pressure on herself “it’s going to be mostly about the experience and learning how to cope at such a major event. I try not to set targets, because for me that sort of adds a bit of pressure”. Indeed taking herself so seriously is something that she is trying to avoid “you can really caught up with trying to get personal bests and trying to be better, and sometimes you have to step back and realise like how class it is to just be riding your bike”.

Training in Manchester though, which is where many of the British sprinters also train, has given Stewart some extra motivation. In her own words, it’s “quite inspirational” seeing someone like Olympic Bronze medallist Katie Marchant train in the same place as her.

The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 is a long-term aspiration for the rider, but this year has plenty for the Belfast woman to focus on in the immediate future. Along with the aforementioned World Championships and Commonwealth Games, Stewart also has a European Championships to look forward to this year, and these championships will carry personal significance as they are being held in Glasgow “it’s very much where I started and learned to ride the bike, so it feels quite special to ride in Glasgow” says Stewart.

Despite this, it will still be the Commonwealth Games where Robyn Stewart will fulfil the dream she began to pursue four years ago “I wasn’t very good when I started, so to look back on the past four years. It does make you realise if you try hard enough anything is possible”.

By Graham Gillespie

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