Charline Joiner: Glasgow 2014 & career rebuilding

CHARLINE Joiner is talking about the upbeat music she uses to psyche herself up before a big race.

Charline Joiner is back in the saddle competing for a place at the Commonwealth Games. Picture: PA

“I play really happy tunes. Stuff like that Shakira song Waka Waka. Have you heard it?” she says. “If you listen to the words, it’s something about getting back in the saddle. When I heard it I thought: ‘I have to put that in.’ It’s about when you fall down, getting back up! That’s the kind of songs I’ve been listening to this year.”

Upbeat and inspirational, it couldn’t be more apt for the Scot who only a matter of months ago feared she may never walk again.

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A tumble over her handlebars during a pile up on a training ride in Spain in January left her in excruciating pain and with three fractures to her vertebrae. It also rendered her hopes of competing at this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow a virtual impossibility. Five months on and not only is she walking, she is back in the saddle and riding competitively and keeping her fingers crossed her name is amongst those listed as members of Team Scotland when the cycling squad is announced on Thursday.

That same day she will be taking part in the latest round of the Matrix Fitness Grand Prix Series on a street circuit in the heart of Edinburgh. Going into the third of five rounds, the Dunfermline rider sits second in the standings, behind fellow Scot Eileen Roe.

“Yeah, it’s going to be quite a day. I’m trying not to think about the Commonwealth Games announcement. I still don’t know if I’m going to be in the team. I’m hoping I have done enough but I can’t do anything about that now. So I’m just concentrating on the race. It will be great to race in our capital city especially as I think everyone I know will be there.”

On a testing course, the female cyclists will get going at 5.30pm and will have to tackle the steep cobbled climb up Victoria Street, along George IV Bridge, back down Candlemaker Row and then navigate their way around the Grassmarket, as Edinburgh Castle casts a watchful eye over proceedings.

“With a background in sprinting, I’m not looking forward to the horrible hill,” she says, “but I am looking forward to a big, noisy crowd. I’m hoping they will be cheering on all the Scots and they will help me up.”

But the harder something is, the more impossible it seems, the more Joiner can be relied on to take it on full pelt.

Even before her accident, she had set herself a stiff challenge. Having surprised herself and earned a place in the Scottish team for Delhi, she won silver in the Team Sprint, but shortly afterwards she opted to swap the sprint for the endurance events.

“I always kind of had an endurance base because of all the sports I did when I was younger. I did hockey, running, swimming and gymnastics so I had a good foundation there and in our sport it is hard to train for the sprints because until about a year and a half ago we didn’t have an indoor track. So the point was I could train on the roads for the endurance events and then as the big events were approaching that would then transfer easier on to the track.”

The reasoning was sound but the transition wasn’t smooth. “The first event was just a few months after Delhi. I went to Rotterdam and was racing against people who were going to World Cup events or World Championships so I had thrown myself in at the deep end but it wasn’t just that I was off the pace. I only finished about three of the 18 races!”

Most people would have caved after receiving such a sharp rebuke from the sport but Joiner doesn’t run from adversity, she uses it as an inspiration. “It showed me where I needed to be and I do like a challenge.

“I might not think I like hard work but, secretly, I think I do and if I can’t do something that I want to do, I work at making sure I can. I wouldn’t say I’m stubborn. I would say determined!”

Initially it was the omnium and the team pursuit she was targeting but she has since moved to the track points race and the scratch race.

Briefs for all events inside the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome are as precious as Willie Wonka’s golden tickets so the fact that her mum managed to secure two seats at the finishing line on the day of the women’s points race is considered a lucky omen.

Cycling was something she fell into after she started getting shin and knee problems while playing hockey. Her physio recommended it as an alternative to running as a cardio workout and she became hooked. She loved pushing herself to see what progress she could make, while the track sessions delivered an adrenaline rush she hadn’t experienced before.

Joiner obviously mastered the switch from hockey to cycling and, unsurprisingly, her doggedness is paying off again. In her first year as an endurance rider, she struggled, in the second she was hampered by a broken arm but was still close to making the GB team for the London Olympics. But last year there were individual medals and a real sense of purpose as Glasgow 2014 drew closer.

That training camp collision could have ruined everything but she is still in the reckoning and admits she would be gutted to miss out. “I do try to keep everything in perspective, though. I don’t let the accident dominate my thoughts but sometimes I do have to remind myself of where I was four or five months ago. So if I miss out I will struggle with that but I will be ok. I’m naturally a very positive, optimistic person and I want to be an inspiration to people and prove that you can come back from almost anything if you work hard enough and you want it enough.”

She met her boyfriend Lee Jones in Delhi, and she is thrilled that he has been selected for the Rugby Sevens once again. The dates of their events will clash but she says the fact they have had the same thing to work towards this summer has been great and is desperate to share the experience, especially as he has told what it feels like to have a whole nation offering it’s backing.

“His first Test XV appearance was Scotland v England at Murrayfield and he says it was the most wonderful experience of his life, to have the home crowd backing them, willing them on. He says it showed how much of a lift the home backing can give. We are such a patriotic country and I’m sure the Scottish crowds will back their own.”

The emotional backing is something she doesn’t lack but, like many, she says a lack of financial support means she will have to cut back on the training and get a job after the Games. If things weren’t hard enough, a recent raid at the family home means she will have to find a way to replace the track tool kit, worth over £1,000, she had spent years piecing together. If selected, it’s just one more hurdle to overcome. “Until you get into the British Team it is hard. I try to do as much as I can to get myself out there, to raise my profile and get more sponsors but it is tough.”

Even a gold in Glasgow wouldn’t change that if Olympians Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are to be believed. They have claimed that when it comes to sponsorship and marketing athletes, the second biggest multi-sports event in the world is virtually irrelevant.

“Like the rest of us, they will still be wanting golds in Glasgow. I doubt any of us will make money from it, it will all be about the passion, the joy of competing and the love of the sport.”