Special Olympics GB cyclist dominates World Games after inspirational journey

Kiera Byland completed a hat-trick of gold medals at the 2019 World Games on Tuesday.

A Special Olympics Great Britain cyclist has emulated her hero Sir Chris Hoy with a sixth World Games gold medal.

Kiera Byland is 21 and has already dominated her events at two World Games, but success on the bike does not tell half of her story.

After winning her third gold of the 2019 Games at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, she can expect to become a role model not just for her medals but also for the journey she has navigated.

Kiera, from Bolton, has a genetic condition called Rubinstein Taybi syndrome, which is why she has a learning disability.

She also has dyspraxia and some autistic traits. She has problems with time, numbers, reading and writing, and struggled to make friends at school.

But then cycling came along and changed everything.

“She never made a friend at school, and that was the one thing she desperately wanted,” Jacqui Byland, Kiera’s mother, told the Press Association.

“As a child she kept saying to me, ‘why won’t anybody be my friend?’ We tried everything as parents to encourage parties, and then they’d just disappear.

“She said ‘what am I doing wrong mum?’ I said ‘I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong, love, they just don’t get you’.

“The moment she joined Special Olympics, she went to her first cycling event in 2014 and she made friends.”

Kiera went on to win three gold medals at her first World Games in 2015 and while sport has helped her foster relationships, contending with her learning disability has been a different challenge.

Her difficulty in telling the time has impacted her ability to not only train, but as a swimming and cycling coach, to teach as well.

Fortunately, as ever, there is an app for that.

“When I do my sessions I don’t know when 10 minutes is up and I’m not sure when to move on,” said Kiera.

“But I use this app called Seconds Pro. It’s colour coded and you can add music to it. I use it for when I need to move on in a coaching session, but also for my warm-ups.”

Because of what she has had to contend with, Kiera’s route into cycling was an unconventional one.

Kiera with her family as a child, and during a charity bike ride
Kiera with her family as a child, and during a charity bike ride (Family handout/PA)

Usually, cyclists start with a road bike and move onto the track if they so choose, but Kiera struggled with gears and brakes.

As a result, she developed her balance in the velodrome where the bikes have no brakes and just a single gear.

It is no surprise, then, to see that track legends like Laura Kenny and Hoy – who has as many Olympic golds as Kiera has World Games golds – are an inspiration.

Kiera, who has met both cycling legends, said: “If they can put in the effort, the time, why can’t we have a go at it? And even level up to them at some point?

“I’m not too sure if that will ever happen, but you never know if you don’t give it a go.”

Competitively, Kiera has been one of the brightest to shine for Special Olympics Great Britain at these World Games and she hopes to continue to compete as well as coach.

But perhaps what makes her a fine role model for others who are intellectually disabled or not is her personality rather than her medals.

Kiera Byland talks to her parents after her final race at the 2019 World Games
Kiera talks to her parents after her final race at the 2019 World Games (PA)

“What we’ve seen is Kiera not only improving all the time from a competitive point of view, but also as a person she’s growing as well,” said her father Brian Byland.

“The way she’s interacting with all the teammates, plus other competitors, that’s been lovely to see.”

Jacqui added: “She’s so patient, so kind, she recognises and understands what it’s like to be excluded, and she will never ever let anybody be excluded.

“I’d like to think she can inspire anybody to take part in the Special Olympics and compete.”

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