A Little Birdie Told Me…

On my first race day at the UCI para cycling road World Cup, I woke up to a little birdie tweeting. It told me I was disgusting. It said I was a cheat. It said I was going to fail. It told me I was a crap swimmer, a crap cyclist, and a joke to disability sport.

It tweeted at my club sponsors, my university, British cycling, and UCI.

It was only tweeting about me.

I knew who was behind the pseudonym but that didn’t make it any better. I knew they were jealous but that didn’t make the cuts any less deep. I knew to ignore the comments but that doesn’t mean they didn’t hurt.

I’ve been bullied a lot, especially when I was younger and at school. I remember being scared to go to school as a result and for the first time ever I was scared to go online. 12 hours of these tweets and I was frightened to post anything in case it provoked more abuse. It made me think how much more straightforward bullying was when I was younger; at least I could escape it when I got home, but with every notification my heart jumped, with every ‘ping’ the panic set in.

British Cycling took care of the situation and my friends took care of me.

The other team members started to send me the most supportive tweets and what one person from home sent me was just what I needed:

Whenever something knocks you down, that’s exactly when you find out exactly who cares about you.

It hurt because I had never done anything to her daughter. I had never made any comments about how good I could be as a cyclist and I never would. I had done nothing to provoke such nasty comments and yet she felt the need to send them, she felt the need to create a Twitter account and wait until race day to attack me.

Classification had not gone the way we wanted, they were questioning my disability and the last thing I needed, especially when I’m trying to start my recovery, is someone implying to the whole world that I am a disability cheat. I was in disability sport years before her daughter was and at least I have a MRI scan to prove my CP, unlike her. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important was that she set out with a vindictive agenda to cause me pain. The mother of another athlete set up an account aimed at hurling abuse at me, to send storm clouds thundering in on the morning of my very first international race.

I don’t usually access my phone in competition because if you do well you can get carried away with all the media hype and I’ve definitely experienced that when I made my comeback at Europeans to medal and social media went crazy for the bronze medallist over that day’s silvers and golds.

Now I know what it’s like to have the opposite side of social media.

I’m really good at ignoring stuff before a race. I wake up and I’m already in the zone, I do what I have to do and I get my job done. It’s after the race that the small upsets affect me. It’s when I finish that I let reality sink in and consider how cruel somebody had been. And I dreaded going back. I dreaded the possible comments I was going to receive.

Crap swimmer.

Crap cyclist.

Waste of space.

Disgusting.

Don’t quit your day job.

You’re a fiddler.

Cheat.

Disgusting.

Disgusting.

I refused to eat for the whole day and when my mum finally sat me down to eat I was in so much panic. So much fear. So much dread of getting fat. And it was because of the stress. I was trying to focus on something that I think can make me happy; being in control of my weight loss, and I didn’t even notice I was doing this. I didn’t realise I hadn’t eaten. I didn’t relaise I had entered autopilot. I don’t even want to think how I would have reacted on my own. More than likely a cycle of starvation and purging would have started.

I’m in such a vulnerable state of mind at the moment and I didn’t need that. Even if I didn’t have an eating disorder, I wouldn’t have deserved that. That quote has never been more true:

“Everyone is facing a battle you know nothing about, so be kind, always.”

Victim of cyber bullying…another thing to add to the list of things I’ve had to cope with.

It only lasted a day but it was unbearable. British cycling ensured the account got shut down and all of a sudden I got nice messages from the entire family. I know exactly who sent them and it was confirmed to me but I know how to handle the situation better, I know how to keep the upper hand, and that’s to say nothing at all.

One day. And she broke me down. I can’t begin to imagine how people who suffer from this on a daily basis feel. Actions hurt but words are crueler. And I’ve experienced that throughout my life and the other day through social media. The account was created specifically to abuse me and I think that hurt the most. It wasn’t an athlete I didn’t know questioning my disability…it was someone I knew from home who decided in spite to ruin my first international race.

But I had such a strong network of support and the message posted above was sent to me through Twitter. He knew what was going on, so whilst I received the dread of a new Twitter notification when I opened it all I could do was smile.

I really do have some amazing people in my life and I promise you that for every hater you have, you have 100 people who love everything about you, it’s just trying not to forget that which can be difficult.

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