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Sammie Stuart

A firefighter and a racing cyclist, Sammie Stuart's life does not lack excitement. She lifts the lid on the surprising parallels between bike racing and saving lives.

A dangerous job

Sammie Stuart knows how it feels to enter a blazing building. 

More than that, she knows what it's like to be forced to retreat and re-enter by a different route. To describe her only as courageous is to understate her bravery. 

Think about it. Adrenaline might nerve you to enter a flaming structure once. But to leave and plunge back in? The lapse between exit and re-entry would give many pause for thought. Not Stuart. 


"The blaze was on the first floor, and we were literally walking under the fire to check if anyone was still in the rooms below. Cables and panels fell from the ceiling."


"I've done a few dangerous jobs for the fire service. You definitely rely on your training, and you have that rush of adrenaline. Only once, during a fire at an industrial unit, have I had to come out of a situation because it became too dangerous," she recalls. 

"The blaze was on the first floor, and we were literally walking under the fire to check if anyone was still in the rooms below. Cables started to fall from the ceiling, which presents the dangers of entrapment and entanglement, and then the ceiling panels began to come down, too.

"The adrenaline continued to flow, even when we were outside the building. My first thought was: 'Just get me back in.' Of course, you're concerned for your own safety, and you constantly analyse what's going on around you, but there's always another way to get someone out. It's just a case of staying calm and finding it."

Incredibly, she sees a parallel between her day job with Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and competitive duties with the Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing cycling team, sponsored by Brother UK. Training, teamwork and camaraderie are essential counterweights to a healthy sense of fear critical for a firefighter and understandable in a racing cyclist.

"Group dynamics are a factor in cycling and firefighting. There's a lot of banter and mickey-taking in both environments, and that helps to bond the team. When it comes to cycling, I'll be quite scared going into my first race with Crimson Performance, given the speed and proximity of the other riders. In training, you never put yourself into corners at that kind of speed. But, as with the firefighting, I think adrenaline, focus on the job and working as part of a team will get me through."

 
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Team effort

Stuart does not attempt to conceal her lack of racing experience. Physical ability has fast-tracked her to a place on the Crimson Performance women's squad and won her coaching support from British Cycling via its North West Regional Academy. Recently, she won two rounds of the Zwift Academy series - an online racing programme and a test of brute strength - and recorded a series of second-place finishes in hill climbs, beaten only by experienced campaigners like Mary Wilkinson. 

She lacks experience in the racing cyclist's natural theatre of operations: wheel-to-wheel combat on open roads or tight, city centre circuits. 2021 should change all that, Covid permitting. To complete the next phase of an accelerated education, Stuart will rely on her team-mates' support, both on the bike and off, but in this regard at least, she need have no fears. Last year's pre-season camp in Calpe established an instant bond between the riders.


"The first time I met the team properly was at the gates of the villa hired for the training camp in Calpe. Everyone was so supportive. It's hard to put into words."


"Before the training camp, I hadn't really met my team-mates. [Team manager] Matt Hallam had put out a call on social media for Cat 2 riders, and we stayed in contact via WhatsApp. I'm still Cat 3, although according to Training Peaks, I'm Cat 1," she says. 

"The first time I met the team properly was at the gates of the villa in Calpe. Everyone was so supportive. It's hard to put into words. When I bumped into Jo [Ryding], for example, it was like meeting a mate from years gone by. 

“There were hilly days where Mel [Greaves] and I were told to go and smash it and get among the top 10 on Strava leader boards, and other days when I struggled. I 'bonked' one day because I hadn't eaten enough and the girls pulled me through; on another day, I was at the head of the train. You can't shine every day."

 
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This sporting life

Sport has always played a central role in Stuart's life. She has a degree in Sports Studies from the University of Cumbria, based on a wide-ranging study of its physiological, psychological and sociological components. She ran marathons and completed triathlons before turning to cycling, ironically as rehabilitation from a freak accident. 

"I was playing football: just a kickabout, not even an organised game. I changed direction suddenly, and that was enough to break my foot. It was quite embarrassing. I wasn't anywhere near the ball or even another player. I walked off, but my foot instantly started to swell, and I knew something wasn't right. The hospital put me in a surgical boot at first. Then I had to wear a cast for seven weeks, but found that I could sit on the WattBike with it and pedal."


"It's exciting to be going into a new season with new riders and new sponsors. There's definitely a buzz within the women's squad. It's going to be an adventure, but I've always thrived on challenges."


She cites possession of a "diesel engine", determination and a fiercely competitive instinct as the foundations of her passion for endurance sport. The common factor that links marathon running and cycling is suffering, after all. Triathlon offered more of the same, but so much cycling that it temporarily caused her to fall out of love with the bike. The absence of anything better to do during rehabilitation re-cemented the bond. 

Stuart readily admits that she is still "learning the ropes" of competitive cycling and regards the season ahead as one in which she will continue. Now a full-time training manager for the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (although remaining on call at Garstang, her local station), she understands the value of a practical education. Cycling is unlikely to offer anything so demanding as courses in cutting people from the wreckage of a car crash or learning to use breathing apparatus. 

The year ahead looks promising indeed for Crimson Performance. Founding sponsor Brother UK will remain at the team's side for a fourth consecutive season, and Hallam plans to unveil a partnership with arguably the coolest brand in the sport. With an increased budget and expanded squad, the future - Covid permitting - is bright. 

"It's exciting to be going into a new season with new riders and new sponsors. There's definitely a buzz within the women's squad," Stuart confirms. "It's going to be an adventure, and that will fill me with trepidation, but I've always thrived on challenges."

For a firefighter, overcoming challenges, often of the most dangerous kind, is literally part of the job. Stuart's professional career should provide a valuable foundation to a sporting life with Crimson Performance.


Images by Crimson Performance/Joe Cotterill Photography

 

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