A British athlete who once stated that she owes much of her success in international cycling to her struggles with Alopecia Areata – which leads to sudden, patchy hair loss – has come up trumps in Rio with the second Olympic gold of her career.
Joanna Rowsell – more commonly known as Joanna Rowsell Shand since she married last year – won the gold medal for her part in Team GB’s women’s team pursuit campaign. The 27-year-old also served as a commentator for the BBC at the event, a job for which many seem to think she was a born natural.
Diagnosed aged nine
Life hasn’t always been easy for the cyclist, however: when she was first diagnosed with Alopecia Areata aged nine, the autoimmune disorder was even less understood than it is today. “It was hard being a teenager with Alopecia,” she told the Daily Mail just before her first Olympic gold in London. “I didn’t bother with make-up or clothes because I didn’t want to think about my appearance.”
Later, after winning her medal and also the hearts of the UK when she completed her lap of honour without her helmet – meaning that her almost completely bald head was there for all to see – she said that her hair loss played a large part in her will to succeed on the track. In turn, she said, excelling at her sport had helped her to conquer the dent in her confidence that the disease had caused.
While Joanna often wears a wig, she is also confident enough to be photographed today without it quite regularly. It is this openness about her condition that has made her such a popular ambassador for Alopecia UK, the UK charity that offers advice and support to people with Alopecia Areata and its more severe forms: Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis.
“What a day!” wrote Joanna on her Facebook page after winning her latest medal. “Incredibly proud of our team. Over the moon to win Olympic gold and defend our title from 4 years ago. Certainly not easy doing it a 2nd time around, especially with the rest of the world of women’s cycling constantly raising their game. But we have all worked so hard for this, with incredible support from British Cycling as well as friends and family who see all the hard work behind closed doors and the blood, sweat and tears that go into achieving moments like this.”
Near-miss in rugby
There was very nearly a space on the Olympic podium for another British athlete with Alopecia Areata; fellow Alopecia UK ambassador Heather Fisher narrowly missed out on a Team GB bronze after her side placed 4th in the women’s rugby sevens.
After a blistering start – four wins in four games – the team ultimately lost out in a semi-final match to Canada. In an open letter to her teammates written after their defeat, Heather wrote: “We have shared so much together mentally and physically, been pushed to our limits time and time again. It wasn’t enough this time, one day it will be Team GB’s time.”
There are numerous stories of people with Alopecia Areata being spurred on to greatness as a result of the disease – actor Anthony Carrigan, star of the TV series Gotham, recently said that losing his hair as a result of Alopecia Areata forced him to reassess who he was. After shaving off all of his hair, he says, he felt liberated.
“The most important thing was that I just felt so good to not have to hide any more,” he said. “To own the way that I am and feel really good about it, feel really positive about the way that I look. That took a lot of work.”
Shaving off all of your hair is certainly a bold step, though arguably less so for a man than a woman. For this reason, many people with Alopecia Areata seek out expert help from a specialist hair loss clinic. In many cases of patchy hair loss, a bespoke alopecia areata treatment course can help.
The Belgravia Centre
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.