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The news broke at the end of 2016. Just weeks after announcing her retirement from professional cycling, former British national champion Sharon Laws revealed that she was suffering from cervical cancer. By the time of diagnosis, the illness was widespread and Laws described the condition as “treatable but not curable.”
She continued riding throughout the chemo treatments and even tackled the gruelling Taiwan challenge in the spring, but she knew her days were running out. Things turned for the worst in November of 2017, and on December 16, 2017, Laws passed.
An accomplished road and mountain bike racer, Laws turned professional in 2008 at age 33 while riding for Team Halfords Bikehut. She helped Nicole Cooke win gold in the Beijing Olympic road race that same year.
Laws went on to establish herself as one of the hardest working domestiques in the peloton, riding for a number of well-known teams including the Garmin-Cervelo, AA Drink – leontien.nl, UnitedHealthcare and Bigla Pro Cycling.
Laws retired at 42 after winning the British mountain bike marathon championships. Already a former national time trial and road race champion, this was her third national title.
Athletic talents aside, Laws was one of the most beloved riders in the peloton, and her loss was felt deeply. Laws was an incredibly caring, humble and inspirational woman who lived life to the fullest. We wanted to honour Laws with the following words and images from the community that adored her.
Our thoughts are with Sharon’s family and friends the world over. RIP Sharon, may tailwinds be with you.
– The Ella Cyclingtips Crew
Sharon Laws: Friend, teammate, athlete, and a wonderful human
By Emma Pooley
If you follow women’s cycling, then you will know of Sharon Laws. You might also have heard the story of her extraordinary career path in sport: from adventure racer and mountain biker to weekend warrior on the road bike (while working full time as an environmental consultant); a breakthrough in road racing at the age of 33; selection for Great Britain at the Beijing Olympics less than a year later (and less than two months after breaking her leg); progression into the professional ranks as a respected and accomplished cyclist; national champion in time trial, road race and mountain bike. It’s obvious from the facts that she was a very talented athlete.
What the list of facts and results doesn’t tell you is what a hardworking, selfless, and enthusiastic teammate Sharon was. Probably because there was less TV footage of women’s races a few years ago, the “domestiques” were maybe not so well known. Sharon was extremely generous with her talent – she rode herself into the ground for her teammates, even though she had the ability to win many of those races for herself.
Purely on a professional level, I owe Sharon a huge debt of gratitude for the many times she selflessly worked for me in our 3 years on the same professional team (it’s no coincidence that those were the best 3 years of my career). No cyclist wins a road race on their own, and Sharon was one of the absolute best to have on your side. She would turn herself inside out for a team victory.
Sharon brought the same generosity and enthusiasm to simple daily life. I first got to know her properly when we were roommates in Beijing, and our friendship grew out of silly little things that made life in the “athlete village” fun: taking it in turns to battle for coffee in the anarchic and protracted cafe queue; forays to try to sneak fruit salad and yogurts out of the food hall; secret excursions to the forbidden swimming pool; escaping the village for an epic all-day ride when our events were over (but we were supposed to be training on rollers!).
From 2010-2012, we were often assigned as roommates because we were the “difficult” ones – which suited us. We were partners in crime scrumping apples and picking figs at the roadside on early morning rides during stage races. The day after the world championship road race in Geelong 2010 was my birthday, so Sharon and I set off at 6 a.m. (after not many hours’ sleep) to ride the coast road from Torquay to Anglesea and stop for coffee with a view of the ocean. Sharon knew the roads well after a few years living in Melbourne, and an early coffee ride with her was the best birthday treat.
Sharon was so much more than simply an athlete. Sport was an integral part of her life but it was just one of the ways she expressed her enthusiasm and passion. She became a professional athlete relatively late, after years working in conservation in roles that took her to the furthest corner of the world. She was a committed and principled environmentalist. She was keenly intelligent, and her travel and experience of different cultures before focussing on cycling made her a little different (and a lot more interesting) than the average professional cyclist.
You’d always learn something from a conversation with Sharon! She maintained her love for swimming, hiking, mountain biking, and exploring – and her willingness to cram them into her training schedule – in the face of disapproval from team directors and coaches. One team mechanic nicknamed her “hummingbird” because she was always moving – and in many ways it is a perfect metaphor for Sharon: tiny, exotic, fast-moving, brightly coloured, and honey-loving! She infuriated some team directors (and sometimes even her roommates!) with her inability (or unwillingness) to be still and rest. But Sharon’s genuine love for sport, for the outdoors, for the mountains and for adventure were what motivated her. It shone through everything she did: she trained and raced with passion and joy (as well as determination), and she was steadfast in refusing to bow to robotic, monotonous, blinkered conformity.
In this, Sharon’s life was more inspirational than any polished sporting performance or hands-in-the-air victory photo. When she was poorly and going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she still went out on her bike every day – because she loved it. Most days she would also swim and hike as well. When I went to visit her during her illness, we went out riding and she was the one pushing the pace and wanting to do the extra distance before the coffee stop (to which I would have gladly taken a shortcut!). If you believe sportspeople should inspire and motivate (and I do), then look to the life of Sharon Laws. She inspires me still – I would love to be even half as adventurous and enthusiastic as Sharon – and for that I am deeply grateful to her.
On a personal level, I know that Sharon’s many friends around the world are simply heartbroken to have lost a dear friend. Those who knew her will remember above all her cheerfulness, her sweet smile, her infectious laughter, her generosity and kindness.
In writing this, I wanted to celebrate Sharon’s amazing life and share some of the happiness she shared with me. The sadness of her early death is crushing and feels like a grim injustice to someone who led the epitome of a healthy lifestyle. My thoughts are above all with her mother. Sharon was much loved by many people, and she will be much missed.
By Iris Slappendel
The past few day’s my heart was heavy. Too heavy to find any words. Even though you know the news will come, it doesn’t hit you any less hard. With the passing of Sharon Laws the world has lost a beautiful person.
I remember the first time that I saw Sharon very well. We were racing a World Cup in Plouay when the person next to me in the bunch pulled a paper handkerchief out of her back pocket to clean her nose (and put it back in!). It was the only time I’ve ever seen someone doing that in a race. A year later we were teammates at the Cervelo Test Team. A friendship was born and she never stopped surprising me.
The situation above was a typical Sharon thing to do. Probably because she wasn’t a typical cyclist at all. She started racing at a late age (33 years) after working in different places all over the world as an environmentalist. I don’t know if it was her late career switch or it’s just her character that made her more determined than anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve never seen Sharon sit down on her bum for one second, not even the last year during her sickness. I liked being around Sharon and chat with her, especially after I’ve given up on trying to ‘raise’ her as a cyclist.
Hanging out with a book in your hotel room after training or racing simply wasn’t Sharon’s cup of tea. The only moment I remember seeing Sharon laying down and relaxing was during the transfers to and from the races, listening to a BBC Women’s Hour podcast with her eyes closed but laughing out loud. All the other hours that were left in the day she was riding, swimming, running, hiking, stretching or gathering veggies and fruit in her cotton food bag.
I’m sure that together with all her former friends, colleagues, teammates and team staff we could compose a big book full with funny Sharon-anecdotes. Maybe later. For now, I just want treasure all those beautiful memories together in my heart. The delicious dinners she cooked me, with home-made chai tea and some mint chocolate for desert. Drinking coffee, riding or just chatting on the phone.
Sharon is the most determined person I know but also very kind and humble. As a rider and as a friend. She’s been a huge inspiration for me and will always be. The way she coped with the cancer was amazing. Although I’m so sad, I feel also very blessed to have had a friend like Sharon. She lived life to its fullest on her own way. I will miss her sweetness, energy and enthusiasm but above all her big smile and contagious laugh. My thoughts are with her mum Joy.
It’s good to read so many messages from people whose lives are touched by Sharon. Life will be different without her. Let’s keep her in our hearts, be more outside, get lost more often and eat more crackers with tahini.