Racing towards the next big challenge
With the Tokyo Olympic Games now sliding into the rear-view mirror, physiotherapist and elite cyclist Breanna Hargrave has set her sights firmly on qualifying for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in the UK. Breanna speaks about her aspirations and how she juggles her gruelling training regime with running her private practice.
There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that while most of Australia was coping with lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, Breanna Hargrave, as an elite athlete, was thriving.
Breanna says that 2020 was her best year as a cyclist because although her private practice, Active Edge Physiotherapy & Massage in Norwood, South Australia, was hit hard by the lockdowns, she was able to train more than ever before.
‘I came out of 2020 the best I had felt physically,’ Breanna, APAM, says.
‘I was able to fit in more training last year than any other year; it was the best year for my cycling thus far, no question.
I won the South Australian State Road Championships and also managed to improve my Flying 200 metre personal best time on the track by half a second.
Yes, COVID did impact my private practice, but having that extra time to devote to training was very beneficial.’
The track sprint cyclist used her training time wisely, working on her strength on the bike, start technique, and speeds while pushing herself harder to achieve more.
As COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures across the country disrupted the vast majority of cycling competitions planned for last year, Breanna remained highly motivated to compete in any way she could.
This included taking full advantage of the indoor cycling app Zwift.
As it did for many of her cycling peers, Zwift enabled Breanna to join in with group virtual races from her own loungeroom while ensuring she could stay physically fit while meeting COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
In order to compete in the 2020 Australian Track Nationals in Brisbane, border restrictions meant that Breanna and her husband Chris Ryan needed to leave Adelaide and spent two weeks in rural New South Wales to enable them to cross the Queensland border.
During this time she continued her Nationals preparation at local outdoor velodromes along the way.
Bree also ran her group exercise classes online, streaming from beautiful places on the east coast.
The development of the online classes has been another positive change to the business to have come out of the COVID disruption.
Breanna’s determination goes hand in hand with a gruelling training program that includes three early morning cycling rides each week, starting at either 6.30 am or 7.30 am depending on work commitments, two to three gym sessions a week and four track sessions at the velodrome.
Usually she will spend between three to five hours a day training as well as following a fairly strict diet.
At the most recent Nationals competition in March this year, Breanna won medals in all six of her events and rode a 10.93 in the Flying 200 metres (the second fastest time in Australia this year).
Breanna was also part of the South Australian Women’s Team Pursuit squad, which won the 2021 Nationals with an Australian Championship record time.
Over the past two years at the Australian Track Nationals she has finished second in all but one of her track sprint events (Match Sprint, 500 metre Time Trial and the Keirin).
She also rides on the National Road Series for the Specialized Women’s Racing Team.
All this, she hopes, puts her on track to come into qualifying for the 2022 Commonwealth Games as fit, trained and ready as she can be.
Representing her country in cycling, Breanna says, is the pinnacle of a cycling career that came to her later in life than most of her cyclist peers.
Breanna was 28 when she took up the sport, having enjoyed an impressive career in athletics prior to that.
A decade on and Breanna is as committed to her cycling as she was when she started, despite the challenges of proving that age is no barrier to her success.
‘It can be hard to convince people that you can improve when you are an older athlete,’ Breanna says.
‘Times speak for themselves and my times have been continually improving.’
If she is selected for one of three places in the Australian Team Sprint squad to travel to Birmingham next year for the Commonwealth Games, Breanna hopes to improve on her results from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
There, Breanna won two bronze medals piloting Brandie O’Conner in the Tandem Sprint and 1000 metre Time Trial.
Sport and competition are in Breanna’s blood.
She says she played ‘every sport I possibly could’ as a youngster, which in turn led to exposure to physiotherapists to treat some of her injuries, including a particularly memorable hamstring injury.
Those positive interactions with physiotherapists, and seeing firsthand the benefits of physiotherapy, made a lasting impression on the young Breanna.
‘Seeing how they [physiotherapists] assessed and treated my injuries so that I could return to sport really stuck with me,’ Breanna says.
‘So when I started my degree I had a real interest in paediatrics and sports physio, which I have continued to this day.’
Breanna studied her physiotherapy degree, graduating in 2006.
During her studies she took a two year break to attend Lindenwood University, Missouri and Warner Pacific College, Oregon on an athletics scholarship.
There she completed a degree in health and human kinetics while competing as a high jumper and heptathlete.
As a final-year student, Breanna completed a placement at the Adelaide Crows Football Club.
The Crows’ physiotherapist at the time, Kevin Whitford, also ran a private practice and soon afterwards invited Breanna to join the team at his practice.
Breanna has worked with many local sporting teams, including SA Indoor Men’s Hockey, North East Hockey Club, Little Athletics SA, Norwood Football Club, SASI Cycling and Kayaking and the Lindenwood College Soccer Team in the US.
Breanna also worked for five years at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, where she became a senior physiotherapist in paediatrics and women’s health.
After some time in these various roles, Breanna was inspired by her father John Hargrave to branch out and fulfil a dream of opening up her own private practice.
That practice is Active Edge Physiotherapy & Massage in Norwood, a business she built up herself, mostly through her contacts in athletics, hockey and cycling.
These days her client base is varied but mostly she treats young athletes and cyclists with overuse injuries as well as people with various sporting injuries.
A typical day for Breanna is to start work around noon after fitting in all her training requirements and working through until 7pm seeing clients.
Her morning schedule also allows time for Breanna to complete the administrative functions of her business.
At her private practice, Breanna runs three physiotherapy exercise classes each week, including injury prevention and Pilates exercises.
‘I feel like these have been a great addition to my own training and helped to prevent me from sustaining injuries that are common amongst track sprint cyclists,’ she says.
‘When the coronavirus first appeared last year I started running these classes online.
It was a really challenging time for everyone but I am lucky to have such amazing support from so many people.
My husband Chris has been incredible through everything; I couldn’t have done half of this without him and my family’s support.
And I have wonderful sponsors in Australian Muscle, Anytime Fitness Unley and Vie13 Kustom Apparel.’
Breanna says that while her immediate focus is on training for selection for the Commonwealth Games next year, she has also kept plans for the development of her private practice bubbling along in the background.
Recently Breanna has been treating pre-pointe physiotherapy screenings for young ballet dancers—an area of physiotherapy she is keen to develop and pursue after her cycling career comes to an end.
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