Carol Cooke AM on her enduring love of cycling

woman cycling up a mountain

Alice Piper

Posted March 08, 2022

3 x Gold medal Paralympian and 9 x World Champion in cycling, speaker and author Carol Cooke AM shares her enduring love of cycling and tips for women on how to get started on two wheels.

When Carol Cooke AM started riding bikes as a kid, she had no interest in being a professional cyclist.  

However, when Cooke began competing in triathlons, she was forced to get on the bike a bit more which saw her skills and interest levels improve. But it wasn’t until Cooke was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis (MS) that she really began to take riding seriously. 

“I lost the ability to balance I had to find a way to stay fit,” she says. “So, I had a trike made.” 

“Then a friend of mine told me that there was a Trike category at the Paralympics, so this kind of spurred me on to start racing,” she adds.

Learn more about Carol Cooke AM's life and career below thanks to arevo by RACV, who are working with partners BikeExchange and AusCycling to celebrate women in cycling and encourage increased participation. 

The arevo bike journey planner app, a free download from the App Store and Google Play Store, lets you plan bike routes that make the most of Melbourne’s safer and quieter bike paths and lanes, all issues women have cited as being barriers to participating in the sport.

Carol Cooke AM on her cycling career, and advice for women starting out in cycling  

What do you love most about cycling?

I love the fact that I can make my ride more of a social affair, or I can be out on my own doing a training session.  I love it for the freedom that I feel it gives me and it makes me happy. 

What was the first bike you ever had?

That was so long ago I couldn't even tell you the brand, but it was fire-engine red, and I loved it!  My first ever trike that I raced on was one that was handmade for me, was a steel frame and weighed 22kgs! 
What is your favourite type of bike to ride?

My favourite type of bike (turned into a trike) that I love racing is my Argon, but for gravel and a bit of fun it's my Johnson. 

Has your confidence with cycling ever wavered given females tend to be underrepresented?

No, my confidence has never wavered.  Once I found the right cycling club and my 'tribe' I've had no issues.  We have a huge number of females at the St Kilda Cycling Club, and everyone is so welcoming and helpful.

What has been the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received about your career?

To not think about the outcome of a training session or a race, just think about the process. If you get the process right, then at the end you will be successful.  Also, to take each year as it comes and concentrate on those little steps in the year up to World Championships.

What is your favourite bike route in Australia?

There is a route that goes from Sydney to Wollongong during the Gong Ride for MS. The scenery is spectacular as you go down through the National Park and out on the coast road and along the Sea Cliff Bridge.  Every time I ride that route I am in awe!

cycling race

Carol Cooke AM performing at the 2019 World Championships. Image: Supplied

A lot of women own bikes, yet are not riding them. What do you think needs to change to increase female participation in cycling?

I think that as women who are riding, we just need to be more vocal to let those, who's bikes are sitting in their sheds, know that there are quite a few groups out there that cater to female-only rides.   

The She Rides program through AusCycling is one as well as through Bicycle Network who run women only rides during the year. Even at my club we have female only rides to introduce women to bunch riding.  
Cycling safety is a concern for women. What is your advice to anyone getting started in riding to make them feel more comfortable on the road?

I think it's important for women who are just getting back into riding to take some lessons on safe riding, riding etiquette and just general maintenance (like changing a flat tyre).   

There is a group called Wheel Women run by a lady by the name of Tina McCarthy. She runs courses for women who want to either learn to ride or get back on their bike and I know that she has taught women right up to the age of late 80s how to ride.  

Then, if you want, there are clubs like mine that take women and teach them how to ride safely on the road in a bunch. 
Where do you hope to take your cycling career next?

I am the oldest female competing internationally in my Para category, and to be honest, I hope to be still competing in 2024! This year I am hoping to race at three World Cups, two in Europe and then one in Canada. Our World Championships are in Canada in August, so I am hoping I'll be on the team for that. 

To all the little girls and grown women out there, what would you tell them about chasing their dreams?

To dream big, don't let anyone tell you that you can't or never should do something.   

Anything is possible if you set your mind to it.  Life is all about the journey along the way, you have got to love and be passionate about what you are doing.  As I said if you follow the process the success will be at the end.

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