Imagine this: you were a professional football player. You have had kidney disease, you have a donated kidney given to you by your mum. You are divorced from your alcoholic husband who left you with nothing. You are also a world champion cyclist undefeated in the last 35 races that you have entered. In addition you are a cancer survivor, and you have just found that the cancer has returned when the country you are resident in goes into lockdown.
You live on your own with your two cats, Cav and Indy (named after famous cyclists), for company, you have amazing hair and you’re named after a jazz singer. How can one person have experienced all of these things? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Ottilie Quince, who might be the most positive person I have ever spoken to. When I speak to her via WhatsApp video call she beams at me like a light burning right out of the phone and into my home office. I already have a slight crush on Ottilie because of her hair. I wish I had the style to pull it off I tell her, and she says “Go for it, cut it off, dye it, it will be fine!” That’s pure Ottilie Quince.
We’re soon talking about what has been going in Ottilie’s life since the last time she was featured in the Majorca Daily Bulletin.
“I had a kidney transplant 2007, and then in 2013 cancer was found on the only functioning kidney. Three hospitals didn’t want to touch me, because normally if you have cancer on a kidney they would just whip it out and you’d rely on the other one, well this is my only one. So I got through that and then last Christmas, 2019 I didn’t feel well, I took myself off to Inca hospital and spoke to the Nephrologist there and they tested me. I can’t feel the kidney normally, so when I can feel something I know there is a problem. The tests came back and confirmed that yes I had cancer again. I was supposed to fly back on March 12th to Oxford where I had the cancer removed the last time but my dad rang me and said “Do you really think you should be flying back at this time? Italy had gone into lockdown and Spain was looking really bad, and I thought “It just isn’t worth it”. So I cancelled the flight and on the 15th we went into lockdown as well”
How have you been coping during the lockdown, I ask.
“My cats have been an absolute joy, they have given me a routine, they need food, they need care. As far as they are concerned nothing has changed. I haven’t been able to go to the supermarket, because of the cancer I am immunosuppressed and I can’t risk going out. A really good friend of mine, Juan Carlos has been shopping for me every week which has been really kind of him”. She has also got closer to her neighbours in the apartment block she lives in. Did you know your neighbours beforehand I ask. “I live in a block of six apartments and there are two townhouses next door in my complex right by the sea. Yeah, my neighbours are from the UK, and Guatemala. We have a neighbourhood whatsapp group and people will ask “I’m going to the shops, does anyone need anything?” And sometimes it is in Spanish and sometimes it is in English. I devised a system where I can lower cookies to my neighbours in an ice cream tub on a rope, and they send things back to me. So yeah, we have been taking care of each other. I have been training on my bike on the balcony everyday and this little boy Alejandro who lives downstairs calls up to me “Mas Rapido!” It was lovely to see him riding his own push along bike when he was allowed out for the first time and he was calling up to me “Ottie! Mirar! Mirar!” Another of my neighbours has twin girls and I have seen them riding along the paseo over the years on balance bikes, then bikes with stabilisers, and now they are allowed out to ride as well they have new bright pink bikes and it is so nice to see how they are growing up, I’ve watched them since they were tiddlers. It reminds me of when I was a kid playing on the street.”
Does she think that the lockdown has had a positive effect on people?
“The lockdown has been a big lesson for a lot of us, we’ve figured out what is important, we have figured out what we can live without and what we need in our lives. Living here reminds me of growing up in the Eighties, there is a lot more of a community feel, people care. Yeah, there are some bitchy people as well, but the good people are really good, and it has made me realise that the others, I can choose to not have in my life at all.”
What inspired you to come to Majorca, I ask.
“After the transplant, I built a sports therapy business, helping other people dealing with injuries maintain their lifestyles and enjoy exercise. I came to visit Majorca in 2015 and I crashed my bike on Puig Major and got carried off to Son Espases. I realised that there were other places with really good health systems which I could live in. Before that I had thought I was tied to living in the UK for the rest of my days. I thought to myself, that’s not me, let’s go! I had a birthday lunch with my dad when I got back to England and asked him if he fancied going on a roadtrip with me! So in September 2015 my dad and I, four bikes, 2 cats and as many Sainsbury’s red label tea bags as I could fit into the crevices of my “soccer mum car” made it over to Majorca. The trip was amazing and it was great to spend that time with my dad. I had saved enough money to get me through a year on the island without an income and I started to pick up work as a physio. I decided quite quickly that I didn’t want to be a “guiri” I wanted to make it permanent, and I decided to get “Poc a Poc” tattooed on my arm. I wanted to show that I want to be here for good”.
And, how did the passion for cycling begin?
“My dad bought me a bike after my transplant as a wedding present, and the bike outlasted my marriage! I lived on the Bedfordshire / Hertfordshire border, and I realised that I loved getting out of the house and the freedom that cycling gives you. If you feel sad, it will make you feel happy. You never come home from a ride and think “I wish I hadn’t done that”. What started as a hobby quickly grew into a sport for Ottilie. In 2010 she entered a British Transplant Games race, just to see what it’s like. And while doing so, she won a gold medal both in the road race and time trial and later joined the British Transplant Cycling Team. “I won my 9th, 10th and 11th world titles last year at the World Transplant Games in Newcastle (first time I’ve had the chance to compete at a world championship in my home country). I competed in the world championships in Sweden, 2011, South Africa, 2013, Argentina, 2015, Spain, 2017 and U.K. 2019. I’m the current world champion, so I am the fastest female transplanted cyclist in the world and have been unbeaten at the last five world championships which happen every two years, I’m also unbeaten at the British champs (18 times British Champion) and the current European Champion (6 times champ in Croatia, Poland, Sardinia and in Finland in 2015 the women’s race was cancelled and I was the only female rider to race in the men’s race and came 12th out of 35 in the road race and same position in the time trial). I’ve won 35 out of 35 races so far since 2010. Simply put, cycling and Majorca have given me life. I was always the sort of person to go after what I wanted, but those two things have given me back my vitality”.
How did the OQ Course Shop come about?
“I wanted to make a meeting place for cyclists and walkers. I have several services, offer sports and physio massage there, and I sell my own cycling kit which I designed and I have bikes which I hire out, and I am a cycling guide as well”. There have been some bumps along the road which Ottilie has taken lessons from. A brush with an unscrupulous company in 2018 meant she had to fight. “They picked the wrong person, eventually they settled out of court, but it taught me to be a bit more discerning about who I trust and who I don’t. And it stimulated me to develop my own business as well”. Ottilie stresses. “I have organically grown my business, through networking and through recommending others. I want everyone to succeed.
At the time of our conversation it had been a few days since we had been allowed to start going out again to exercise, how did she find it?
“I couldn’t sleep the night before, I felt like a kid at Christmas. I had my kit laid out ready. I woke up at five, and I was waiting until six. I’d had my tea and my toast and I was so impatient to start, it’s like knocking on your mum and dad’s door and asking, “Can I have my presents yet?!” I ask her if she felt emotional going out for the first time on her bike after so many weeks. “I made this video of me on a stretch of road where it rolls down through the forest, and I was going so fast and it felt great, and just before that I was welling up, yes. I’m a big fan of The Fast Show and there’s a sketch in there where they say “Aint mums brilliant, they make your tea” and I always say the same thing, “Aint cycling brilliant!”
How does she feel that the island will come out of the lockdown?
“The lockdown is going to be a leveller, a lot of greedy businesses had been putting their prices up without increasing their service. But now, when we get to start again, you are going to have to be pretty special to stay in business. Customer service and being nice to people is going to be important. When I went into the hospital in December I thought 2020 was going to be a bad year for me, but actually it is going to be a bad year for everyone, everyone is in the same financial situation. I heard someone say the other day, we are all in different boats, but we are in the same storm.”
How do you think cycling is going to recover?
“I don’t know, I have had a lot of loyal customers telling me they will be coming back, which is fine, but they mean next year for the Spring season. There are people who come from all over the world, but they come in Spring and then have their family holiday in Summer. We have to consider how the virus is affecting them, they might not have work or the money or the ability to come over. 98% of my customers come from abroad. At the moment I can’t open because such a huge proportion of my customers aren’t here. It had got to the point during lockdown where I didn’t even want to visit my shop because I was feeling so frustrated: in the middle of March it was looking really good, I had got loads of new stock in, my mechanic was ready, everything was on point and then Bam, lockdown. But now I am going frequently to clean it and check it. Health comes first though, for everyone. Governments have to take it on the chin, they have to think, do we want a healthy workforce or a quick buck now. There has to be some sort of vaccination, and testing before we can really resume normality.”
In the meantime she has started to diversify.
“I’ve started selling prints to remind people of Majorca which I was really surprised are going really well! So that has been keeping me busy as well.” It is not over yet for this extraordinary person. “I haven’t finished competing. This year was supposed to be the European championships in Dublin, Ireland and the British championships in Coventry but due to Corona have both been cancelled but I have a bigger fight on my hands right now”. I don’t think I need to wish her luck because as she says, “you create your own”.