Joanna is a cyclist on the Great Britain Cycling Team. She won gold in the Women’s Team pursuit at the London 2012 Olympics and is currently the National, European and World Champion, and also the World Record Holder for this event. She received her MBE from the Queen in February 2013.
“I was born in Surrey in 1988 and for as long as I can remember I had small bald patches. As a child this didn’t bother me too much as the rest of my hair was long and they could be easily covered up. The hair would grow back and then another patch would develop. I have vague memories of my parents taking me to see a doctor about it but at this stage there were no great concerns. When I was a bit older I lost one of my eyebrows and then started to develop more and more bald patches. This time they didn’t grow back and when I was 10 I gradually lost all of my hair.
I was diagnosed with alopecia areata and tried out some treatments from a specialist doctor but to no avail. As a 10 year old it upset me but as I wasn’t yet in my teenage years I wasn’t completely distraught. My hair grew back when I was about 16 so I had a full head of hair. It didn’t grow very long unfortunately before it began coming out again. I had more re-growth aged 19 and after it fell out for a third time I looked into wigs.
I now wear a wig whenever I go out day-to-day but as a cyclist I never wear one for training or competing in. I am often asked why not, but I find when I am competing at the top level it would be too hot and heavy when I need to be performing at my very best.
After the London 2012 Olympics I had a lot of media attention about my alopecia. Having just become Olympic Champion I was full of confidence, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of attention I got. I had made my peace with the condition and was comfortable talking about it to the media, but was totally overwhelmed with the general response from alopecia sufferers and non-alopecia sufferers alike.
I am excited to be an ambassador for Alopecia UK because they do fantastic work to improve the lives of those with alopecia. I hope to connect with more people with the condition and help in some way because I believe having alopecia shouldn’t hold you back. My mantra which applies to both my sport and my general life is “Only think about the things you can control; don’t worry about the things you can’t”
“There is no point spending my life wishing things were different, so instead embrace every opportunity you are given and don’t let alopecia stop you.”
For more information about Joanna Rowsell Shand, please check out her website.