Ottilie Quince is a true tour de force who is an inspiration, not only to fellow transplant patients but to people who wish to get the most out of life by keeping fit and healthy.
Luton born and bred, she is the eight times world, six times European and multiple British Transplant champion and the captain of the Great Britain Transplant cycling team. She also races domestically for CC Luton, but she never set out to be a cyclist.
Sport has, however, always played a major role in her life. The 36-year-old graduated from the University of Luton in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science honours degree in Sport and Exercise Science. She went on to pursue her teaching career and graduated from the University of Greenwich in London with a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
She started teaching various sports performance and sports science courses (including A Level Physical Education) at Luton Sixth Form College in Bedfordshire for four years (2003-2007). She then completed the notorious Football Association’s (FA) Diploma in the Treatment and Management of Injuries at the FA’s Sports Science headquarters in Lilleshall. But just after completing the FA course, Ottilie discovered she had been born with kidney disease (reflux nephropathy) and had end-stage kidney disease. She needed a kidney transplant.
In August 2008 Ottilie’s mother Lesley became her donor. "Prior to my transplant I played football in the third tier of national football, but after my operation I was told I could no longer play football as the chances of getting hit or elbowed in my new kidney was too high and risky. My dad bought me my first road bike as a wedding present back in 2008 ('it outlasted my marriage', she jokes) and cycling became my new passion.
"My very first bike race was in Bath in 2010 for the British Transplant games where I represented my transplant hospital - Addenbrookes (Cambridge). In 2011 I won my first world championships in Gotenborg, Sweden. In 2013 I bought myself a track bike and took part in two national omniums (Herne Hill & Welwyn) against regular riders - I didn’t finish last. Then came three national omniums in 2014 (Herne Hill, Welwyn & Bournemouth).
"During all that I was selected for the British team and I am now captain and currently raising funds to compete in my ninth British Transplant Games in Newport this summer.
"Previously I have had major sponsors but I don’t know if it’s Brexit or whatever, quite a few pro teams have folded this year, so I am having to fund it all myself. I was persuaded to set up a crowdfunding site. I hated the idea of having to ask people for money, for anything in fact, but a good friend of mine twisted my arm and despite proving successful, it’s also been a great vehicle to make contact with people and hear their stories."
She now runs her own business in Puerto Pollensa. "I first came across Majorca training for the British team. I would come out twice a year and in May 2015 decided that this was where I wanted to live. Just under two years ago, I set up OQ Service Course. Apart from working as a physio, I operate guided cycle tours and I help cyclists of all levels from beginners to professionals - I have my scooter to go out and help the pros stay in shape when they come training here.
"And I have made sure to get stuck into the local culture and community. I’ve learnt the language, now I’m working on my Catalan. I think it’s vital to become part of the local lifestyle, otherwise what’s the point of being here or living overseas. Majorca lends itself to living a healthy life, and the combination of my work and my love for sport, especially cycling, helps me to keep fit. It helps me to look after my kidney, which my body is always trying to reject. Being here in Majorca enables me to keep fit, out of hospital and alive. I still have to have regular check-ups every 12 to 16 weeks. Some I carry out here, the doctors are amazing, the others in England.
"Sadly, I have to keep both camps open because at some stage I am going to need another transplant and it’s going to come from my middle brother who is married and settled in the UK, so the operation will have to be carried out there. I wish I could do it all here, but that’s going to have to wait until the time comes, whenever that may be."
While not a professional cyclist, she has travelled the world winning the World Championships and also as a TV commentator of major cycling events. Through that, she has met and interviewed many of the greatest cyclists of the past twenty odd years. She is also an ambassasor for an organisation called 20/20 which promotes organ donation in the UK.
"Here in Spain it is so common. This is one of leading countries in the world for transplants, but in the UK it is still a bit of a taboo subject. Three people die every day in the UK while waiting for a transplant so something needs to be done to increase the general public’s awareness and strip away the stigma.
"And it’s even more noticeable when I go to the British and World Championships. Obviously people know we’ve all had transplants and quite often when I’m warming up, kids, many of whom are transplant patients themselves, will come up and ask what happened to me. So I tell them and quite often they get inspired. For example, there is a young Scottish lad Blair who came to my shop with his parents in the port last year. He’s into cycling but his sister was not, but no sooner did she see Blair and I cycling together, she got into it and they’ve been back to see me this year. So if I can help to inspire fellow transplant patients, so much the better because, to put it politely, it can really do your head in at times.
"You have spikes in your condition and a transplant is a treatment not a cure. It’s a never-ending battle and at times I feel really down and guilty. This is not the body I wanted. I didn’t chose to be ill. I always led a healthy life, so at times you wonder ‘why me’? And it’s not just me, it was my mother who also got involved; she saved my life. At some point my middle brother is going to have to help save my life as well. So, yeah, at times it’s tough and there’s always that burning question at the back of your mind. ‘How long is the kidney going to keep working?’
"Every time I go to a championships, there is always news of someone having passed away since we all last met up - that’s the harsh reality of it all. But it’s taught me to take nothing for granted and now I am able to spend more quality time with my parents and family. I’m grateful for everything I’ve got and my outlook to life has changed. Now my focus is on retaining my world and British titles this year. I’ve even got ‘poc a poc’ on my kit, little by little, step by step, that’s how you have to live life as a transplant patient."
To help Ottilie on her journey to the games visit www.gofundme.com/6pq8dxc?fbclid=IwAR3Z7d7ESb17FQZDWVqBYNhcooKoGoRq7Vn3YCEbXtwBdmF60J8BsFpOFow