Nettie Edmondson on retirement and what’s next

Gracie Elvin speaks with the 16-time Aussie champion about her career and what the future might hold.

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After a long and successful career racing for Australia on the track and for various outfits on the road, Annette Edmondson – Nettie – has announced the end of her professional racing career. Edmondson walks away from the sport with three world titles, an Olympic bronze medal, two Commonwealth Games gold medals, and 16 national titles.

Long-time friend and former teammate Gracie Elvin sat down with Edmondson for the Freewheeling podcast to chat about what made the Australian track star decide to step away and whether or not Edmondson will remain a part of the cycling world.

Gracie Elvin: Hi Nettie, how are you? You’ve just retired. Let’s chat about that.

Nettie Edmondson: I am good. I am super happy and almost relieved in a way. I think it’s been an amazing journey and I’ve had so many wonderful experiences. But I think too, I knew that the decision was coming up and I think to have finally gotten there is quite a relief. I’m really, really excited for the next phase.

Did you have retirement set in your calendar or were you kind of basing it off feel?

I think I’ve always based it on feel. Because I was thrown into the sport at 12 through a talent search program, I’ve never had the same passion as other people who have gotten into it by choice. So it’s been like, there are obviously amazing moments and I’ve had some wonderful times, but I think I’ve always had in the back of my mind, like, is this what I want to do?

So I’ve had periods where I’ve been super motivated year after year but after the 2016 Games, I took an indefinite break. It ended up being about three months and I was just kind of fighting my way to see if I wanted to find that motivation again. I did, and I came back and had another cycle in me, but once again I just kept playing it by ear.

I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t want to do it, but by the time the Games got postponed in 2020, four months before the Olympics, I think that was the moment that I realized I was done.

The devastation of that massive event being postponed and realizing how much I had actually been counting down without realizing, I think that’s when it hit me. That was why it was such an emotional time for me because it meant that we had to rebuild that fitness all over again and go through all that pain and all that effort to try and get to that level of fitness.

So then the year of postponement was quite nice in a way because it took the pressure off and I was able to relax and just ride without racing again. I didn’t have a lot of pressure from coaches. I just had a bit of space and actually could find the love and the freedom of riding a bike again.

But once we started getting towards the Olympics, I think in my mind I thought I was done.

In hindsight, are you glad that you had that extra year or do you think that you would have been better off if the Olympics happened how they were supposed to happen in 2020?

Given the way Australia performs at the Olympics on the track, I think in particular our program and the endurance, we were in a better place a year before.

I don’t think our plan worked quite as well, and I feel like the postponement didn’t help. We had so much racing in our legs, we were race fit. And then the postponement meant that Australians weren’t able to get overseas and race because the government wouldn’t allow us back into our country unless we did two weeks quarantine, which affects your training.

So we chose not to race and we thought that we could get enough in training. It hampered our physical ability to get results, but at the same time, it gave us space to have a kind of throwback to our roots and rediscover that passion and also start to mentally prepare for the next steps.

Because I was so intensely following the track and then the road season and the track, I hadn’t really taken a step back and thought about what to do next. We do have good support at Cycling Australia. We have a counsellor. But I still didn’t really give it any real thought until the postponement actually happened.

You wrote a few weeks after the Olympics in an Instagram post … you almost channelled your feelings about the whole process. Do you want to talk about that?

Yeah, it’s interesting. I wrote it and I got it all off my chest and it was four pages long and I can clearly remember that. I had a lot of passionate energy and I was thinking, “Do I post it? You know what? It’s done, the Olympics are done”.

So I refrained from posting, and I actually haven’t read it again since. But I am interested to see what I wrote and how it came across.

We’ve had a lot of chats with Cycling Australia, and there’s a big process moving forward. The program wasn’t satisfied with the results so they’re going to be put under the pump and there’s going to be some big changes made [Australia finished seventh in the women’s team pursuit in Tokyo – ed.] So I know that’s taken care of, but I think it was a nice process for me to go through and just get it off the chest and be able to move forward.

Obviously, I was disappointed with the results, but at the same time, it made me realize that we are one team and we have one goal and we all put 100% effort into that. Whether it works or it doesn’t it is what it is. We as athletes are the ambassadors of our team and the team effort, and we are the ones that get the amazing results and we get to stand on those podiums with the medals. But when it doesn’t go well, we also have to call the other side. I think that I had to put it all into perspective and think about the times that it did go well and how thankful I am for those moments.

We do have such a powerful program at Cycling Australia and we have amazing coaches and amazing athletes, and I am so thankful to be part of that program and to have had them pushing me throughout my whole career. I know that all the positives would not have been possible without them. So, unfortunately, we didn’t get it right and I didn’t get the dream finish to my career. But it’s life and I don’t think everyone can have the dream finish.

There’s only one winner at the end of the day, and obviously, with hindsight, a lot of teams would do things differently. But we weren’t the best team on the day, and that’s the harsh reality.

You’re still struggling with some concussion symptoms from a crash more than two or three years ago now. Can we talk about some of those concussion symptoms and feelings around that?

It actually is part of my decision to retire. I was thinking about going to the road, but there are so many more riders out there and the risk of crashing is higher.

Recently our team went to Bright [Victoria, Australia] for training camp and I was excited and loving the roads, the great climbs. And then a week later, we were riding up Mount Hotham and the town Bogong was close by and I remember thinking “I heard that before. There’s a moth called the Bogong moth.” It wasn’t until we were riding back the other way that I rode past a little motel on the side of the road and I turned and looked and thought, “that looks a bit familiar”. I saw the name. It was called the Bogong Moth, and it suddenly hit me that I had been there before.

It was just this horrible dark feeling that I had actually come here two years before. It was such a haunting moment.

What advice would you give someone if they have hit their head in a crash?

I would say to take it seriously. Your brain is so much more important than a bone. A bone can heal. That was the frustrating part – you don’t know when you’re better and each concussion is different. Someone might have symptoms for two weeks and another person might have them for months. Some people I know had to quit cycling because they couldn’t ride again.

Something that I’ve actually only just discovered in Girona … I have a massage/ physiotherapist; she also happens to be a cranial therapist. I had never heard of this before. But they kind of massage your skull at the same frequency that the plates can move. She pretty much just massages those spots. I’ve been seeing her recently, and she’s been working on me to try and get the skull back into this normal position.

That’s just that’s my opinion. I think if I had found out about this lady two years ago, then I would have definitely got on board. And at the end of the day, I feel like we haven’t got much to lose when it comes to that sort of situation. So I would definitely recommend looking into a cranial therapist.

You would be an asset to Cycling Australia and the track team if you ever wanted to be part of that process on the other side of the fence. Would you like to stay in cycling in one way or another moving forward now? 

I hope I do have that love and I do have that passion. Now I see it from a different angle and I see that I do have lessons to share, and I would love to give back to some of the youth coming through, but I’m not sure in what way yet. I’m still exploring.

I was part of a mentor program just last week, so that was super nice just to get my foot in the door and have a little bit of an experience in that realm. But at the moment I’m still exploring opportunities through my network. The nice thing is that it excites me and I’m sending out emails and I’m putting the feelers out and I’m excited to get on my computer and just check and see what’s happening and see where the opportunities line up.

I’d just love to make the most of the network that I’ve got and then the connections I’ve made for the next few years in cycling while they’re still hot.

For the full interview with Nettie Edmondson check out the Freewheeling podcast, anywhere podcasts are found.

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