Millimetres away from paralysis, few athletes have gone through pain like Vicky Williamson in search of the Olympic dream, writes Ella Jerman.
It’s a dream that means so much that when a life-changing accident made success on the saddle impossible, bobsleigh unexpectedly became the answer.
Three years ago, Williamson was one of the hottest prospects in cycling but her life was turned upside down when a horror crash in Rotterdam left her dream of reaching Rio in tatters.
With a broken neck and back, dislocated pelvis, torn skin and a cut so deep it exposed her spine, there were fears she would never walk again but the 26-year-old has now defied the odds in more ways than one.
A remarkable recovery first saw Williamson return to GB colours at the Track Cycling World Championships in February but she immediately knew it was never going to be the same.
A 14th-place finish alongside Katy Marchant in the team sprint left her inconsolable. Tokyo-chasing Williamson wasn’t ready to be average – she wanted more.
“I just wanted to jump in a vortex and go home straightaway,” she said. “I knew that Tokyo was no longer doable, which was a hard pill to swallow.
“But when I was standing on the start line at the World Championships, I realised there was no-one else there who had gone through what I had.
“The fact that I even got to that point was an achievement, but I still felt like I’d wasted three years coming back for it to end now.
“I was devastated. I’ve always said I wanted to get to the Olympics. It’s such a shame that I couldn’t finish it off in cycling with Tokyo, but it’s not in my nature to give up.”
Getting back on the track left Williamson in agony with severe tendonitis in her lower spine, but she refused to wallow in self-pity.
Sat at home scrolling through social media, she saw a post from GB’s Mica McNeill who was recruiting talent for the next round of British Bobsleigh Trials.
Determined to give herself the best chance of chasing her life-long Olympic dream, Williamson jumped at the chance.
“I thought oh god, I’ve only got a couple of days, but it was one of those things where if I didn’t go, I would have forever thought what if?” she added.
“After the first try-out in Bath I was hurting so much. I was an absolute mess. I remember thinking was I good? Was I not? One week later, I got the email saying the place was there if I was interested.
“If you told me I would be doing this in the summer, I would have just said, what? But anything can happen when it comes to me, so it’s not a massive surprise.”
For someone who had only pushed a sled twice before receiving her GB bobsled jersey, Williamson has got off to quite the impressive start on the ice.
She finished fifth alongside McNeill in the Europe Cup in Germany earlier this month but much like on the saddle, she has never been willing to settle for second-best.
“It’s still about winning medals. I want to complete the journey. That journey will be complete if I can make Beijing in 2022.”