PARALYMPIC champion Naomi Riches made an unusual sporting return on Sunday following her retirement from rowing, with her switch to a new discipline not going entirely to plan.
This time last year, the gold-medal winning rower was clinching a sixth world championship title, but after hanging up her oars this year the 31-year-old decided to jump in the saddle for the Red Kite Ride cycle race.
And embarking on a tandem bike for the gruelling challenge 80-mile challenge, the partially-sighted champion rower needed to call for back-up after her tandem pilot Eric Shirley pulled up with cramp after 30 miles.
Experienced cyclist Eric, whose father, also Eric, competed in two Olympic Games in the 3,000 metres steeplechase, said. “I’ve never had anything like that before. I was so embarrassed.
“We were sitting on the side of the road in a spot of bother. But the attitude and spirit of willingness to help us was incredible and I’ll definitely be back to try again.”
Eventually, organisers drafted in another partner, cyclist Sue Barretto, who had turned up as a volunteer and ended up helping Naomi complete the remaining 50 miles.
Naomi said: “It’s run so well, everyone’s looking out for one another. All the cyclists had their goals. And I’m just pleased to have achieved my ride. I’m probably fitter than I thought!
“I’ve enjoyed my retirement from Rowing but I need to feel happy again in my own skin. And the great thing is I’m doing it because I’m enjoying it and not because I’m being told I have to do it.
“I got a call only on Wednesday to say that a tandem had been found so there wasn’t much time to think about it.”
Naomi was one of 600 entrants, who took on the circuit, which snaked through countryside South Bucks, Berkshire and the Chiltern hills.
The third annual Marlow Riders club event was held over three distances, with a 50, 80 or 100 mile route on offer.
One of the most impressive rides of the day came from 11 year-old Cal Gorvy, who rode with father Sean and completed the 50 mile ride in 2hrs 52mins.
Event Director Tolmie said: “It was another brilliant day and we’ve had great feedback. The riders have enjoyed great scenery on some of the best roads in the Chilterns.”
Competitors also helped raise over £5000 for charity Cyclists fighting Cancer, which gives bikes, adapted tricycles and equipment to children and young people across the UK whose lives have been affected by cancer.