From watching London 2012 to being part of Birmingham 2022
Ten years ago, London 2012 set my pedals turning.
That was really the first time I can remember watching cycling on the television. I watched - or listened - to pretty much every sport in that magical summer but it was the women on wheels who inspired my own journey. I dug out an old bicycle from the back of our shed, inflated the tyres and set off.
Since then, I've ridden in Europe, Africa, India and USA. I've covered tens of thousands of miles and helped hundreds of women enjoy cycling through my role as a Breeze Champion. I've made wonderful friends and had the very best adventures. I've fallen in a heap, waded through floods with my bike on my shoulder and ridden into wind so strong I almost went backwards.
And I've loved every minute.
So when the opportunity came to volunteer to be a part of Commonwealth Games that could inspire others to free their dusty bicycles from the back of the shed and take to the open road, I didn't hesitate.
This summer, I was part of the Commonwealth Collective, a happy band of 14,000 volunteers helping to deliver the games in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
At my interview, I said I'd do anything except drive people anywhere. I'm well known for getting lost and couldn't handle the responsibility of delivering athletes to the right place, on time. Eventually, I was thrilled to learn that I'd been allocated cycling.
For six days, I was a very small part of the fantastic Mountain Biking event, at Cannock Chase. A vision in orange and grey (the cap stayed firmly in my bag after the first morning), I was lucky enough to be placed in the athlete's lounge, helping competitors, coaches and team officials.
What did that mean?
Well, the easy part, thanks to working alongside the much more experienced volunteer Bonna, was registering teams when they arrived, handing out training numbers and showing them to the tent that would become their country's base during the Games. It meant answering questions and providing advice. It meant making sure that we had enough food in the fridge to satisfy ravenous athletes (if you have ever fed a teenager you will have a small notion of the mountain of sandwiches this requires).
It meant obtaining superior coffee for coaches who couldn't drink the blend on offer and procuring extra ice packs for one team on race day.
It meant tracking down right keys to storage containers for rollers and equipment, sanitising tables and chairs to keep athletes safe from infection and keeping up with results of teammates in other sports, to update cyclists out on the course.
If there was a problem, we solved it.
When a partition wall fell down in the athlete's changing room, four of us managed to build back better. When one coach of one asked to make an official complaint, I didn't blink....although a big part of me wanted to hide under my desk.
And when the very lovely Kenyan team wanted to get back to their accommodation in Warwick, I went through hell and high water to get them a bus. Although having cringingly broadcast around the whole site, I won't be using a radio again in a hurry: "I NEED A BUS FOR THE KENYANS. JUST THE KENYANS. CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?"
It was an indescribable thrill to glimpse behind the scenes of the athletes' experience at a major event.
Over six days, I got to see a lot of the Australian rider Zoe Cuthbert and thrilled by her surprise Silver. I was taken aback at the emotion of seeing 'my' riders on the Start line and I made sure that I was there to meet Kenyan rider Nancy Debe as she exited the track: "We were all shouting for you, Could you hear us?" She'd heard the roar of the volunteers the whole way around.
Shattered, I was nonetheless sad when my time with the Collective came to a close. I could have stayed in that happy, positive, sunshiny bubble forever.
Birmingham is said to have been changed by the Commonwealth Games. I hope that among the millions watching, there is someone like me who has been changed, too, someone who even how is retrieving a bike from the back of the shed and begining their own journey.
As for me, I've been bitten by the bug. I've already got my name down for the Island Games in 2023 and can't wait for applications to open for Paris 2024. I’m even considering driving a buggy at Camp Bestival.
If you get a chance to volunteer and get involved, take it. You’ll get back so much more than you contribute and the very worst that can happen is that you will embarrass yourself on a two-way radio.