England’s Hayley Simmonds claimed Commonwealth Games bronze in the women’s time trial and tears of joy quickly followed the latest high in a remarkable transition.
The 29-year-old stood on the podium next to New Zealand’s Linda Villumsen and Australia’s gold medallist Katrin Garfoot, weighing almost half as much as she did when her cycling journey began in 2010.
What started as a way of lowering a peak weight of around 16st 5lbs (104kg) has led to a major podium, not to mention a drop of around seven stone (45kg).
She is a picture of sporting achievement yet says she remembers vividly the days where she would “hide in baggy clothes” to conceal her physique.
Simmonds embodied change as – hunched over her bike in the aero-tuck position – she set about adding bronze to the silver England’s Harry Tanfield claimed earlier in the men’s time trial.
“I’ve worked hard,” she tells BBC Sport. “I was showing someone photos of me in 2011 and they didn’t believe it was me.”
‘Bye bye malt loaf and pasta’
Life changed for Simmonds after she competed for Cambridge as they claimed the Boat Race in 2009. The 5am rise to row before lectures stopped as her sporting nature was entirely sacrificed for study. Added weight soon followed.
“I wouldn’t say I got away with it when I was rowing. When I did the boat race even at weigh-in day I was 86kg (13st 7lbs) I think,” added Simmonds, who has a PhD in organic chemistry.
“I used to eat a lot of pasta and cheese – which is nice but not ideal.
“I think nutrition has come a long way in the time I have been in sport. When I was rowing in school we had a nutrition talk and I remember being told that when I’ve been out on a long row I can basically buy an entire malt loaf and eat it.
“I thought great, I like food, that sounds good.”
Work with Michelin-starred chef and nutritionist Alan Murchison has helped Simmonds drop down to around nine stone. Carbohydrate intake has been drastically reduced in preference for a high-protein, gluten-free diet.
“At one point when I was trying to lose weight I would have a high-protein breakfast,” added Simmonds. “So that might be steak and nuts. I don’t do that anymore.
“Initially you can lose weight quite quickly and then it’s a slow process. So within the period of losing weight I have changed what I have done.
“I feel more confident and better in myself. I don’t worry about wearing baggy clothes to hide anymore. Even just general energy levels have transformed. It’s hard to remember those times now.”
‘Lose an ounce gain a second’
And then of course there is cycling’s part in the lifestyle switch. Her husband and coach Mark Holt gave her a bike in 2010 before training seriously a year later and achieving a sub 30-minute time trial close to her home.
With a mantra of “lose an ounce gain a second”, she eventually won the British national time trial championships in 2015, the same year in which she clocked 19 minutes and 46 seconds for the distance.
Three-hour morning rides, or sessions on the turbo trainer twice a day have melted away mass from her 5ft 5in frame. To stand next to Simmonds now, you wonder how she actually carried the extra weight.
“As soon as I started cycling and doing evening time trials, my competitive nature took over,” added the Redditch-born athlete.
“There have been times where I just wanted to go and eat a big cake but I’m lucky I have people supporting me. If I’m going for that slice of cake my husband may say ‘do you really need that?’.
“Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter if your goal is a 30-minute time trial, just little, regular goals.”
Making the Commonwealth podium is hardly a “little” goal. Simmonds admitted the sense of achievement felt “incredible” but she is already looking to make the British team at the 2020 Olympic Games.
There is now no more weight to really lose but given the focus which has brought her this far, reaching the sporting carnival in Tokyo two years from now would be another turn in Simmonds’ transformation.