Double Olympic gold medal winner Joanna Rowsell Shand, who announced her retirement from cycling back in March, looks set to enter a new phase in her life in which she proves to be a huge source of inspiration for other people whose hair loss has been caused by the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata.
As her autobiography Full Circle hits the shelves this week, the British cycling legend who secured a place at the top of the podium in both the 2012 London Olympics and at a Rio four years later, is enjoying a packed media schedule where no subject appears to be off limits.
Victory laps without wig
During an interview on BBC Breakfast, for example, Joanna spoke openly about her Alopecia Areata, which turned from scalp-only patchy hair loss to the more severe form, Alopecia Universalis, which causes total baldness of the head and body, when she was ten years old. This is something she has not sought to hide, stepping onto the winner’s podium or performing victory laps without a wig on multiple occasions.
She said: “I lost all of my hair when I was 10. Younger than that I had small patches, but that didn’t really bother me because I could easily cover them up. It has grown back briefly a couple of times, but I have spent most of my life with no hair.”
She went on to say that during her cycling career, particularly back in 2012 when she found herself in the global spotlight for the first time, the media got really excited about her Alopecia Areata. “I was 23 years old and I found it quite difficult,” she says, “because people were telling me I was a hero and and I was brave and I was getting asked so many questions in interviews where people were hoping for me to come out with these brilliant one-liners, but I felt like a rabbit in the headlights.”
She continues: “I didn’t really know what to say, but definitely over the years I feel a lot more comfortable talking about it and have some good advice to give now.”
The interviewer suggests that it must have been strange having so much attention paid to her almost completely-bald head when it was just a part of who Joanna was.
“Exactly,” she replied. “So for me at the London Olympics I rode my bike round in circles very fast with my teammates, we went on the podium and got the medal – and I wasn’t consciously thinking, ‘This is a really brave thing to do.’ You’re there celebrating your win, but since then I’ve really understood the impact that it had and the difference that it has made to people which I am really proud of, and I really want to help raise awareness of Alopecia. I do a bit with Alopecia UK (which has recently merged with Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK) and I can do more now that I’m retired.” Continues below…
Hair loss helped her to succeed
The acclaimed sportswoman, who is 28, has previously spoken out about her autoimmune alopecia on a number occasions. She told the Daily Mail a few years ago that it was hard being a teenager with the condition, but explained that her hair loss played a large part in her will to succeed on the track.
Up to 600,000 people in the UK are thought to be affected by Alopecia Areata, a condition which is understood to have a number of suspected triggers that cause it. These include psychological long term chronic stress, shock and sudden extreme stress, physical trauma and several other things – although it is not always possible to pinpoint exactly what is behind it.
At Belgravia, treatment for Alopecia Areata is possible when clients present with the patchy, scalp-only mild version of the disease. When shedding is extreme, as Joanna’s is, then treatment is much less likely to be successful. This may soon change, however, if a number of proposed new treatments that are being trialled around the world prove their efficacy in tests and achieve subsequent regulatory clearance.
Belgravia clients with Alopecia Areata are typically offered formulations of high strength minoxidil from those available at the in-house pharmacy, which is applied topically to the scalp on the affected areas. This opens up potassium channels in the skin and can lead to regrowth. There are additional therapies that can help improve the prognosis for people with the condition, and Belgravia’s hair growth booster products are usually offered as part of a tailored treatment course.
For children and teens especially, people like Joanna – and fellow sports stars including rugby player Heather Fisher, basketball power forward Charlie Villanueva and Newcastle United footballer, Jonjo Shelvey – are a terrific source of inspiration. They show that Alopecia Areata does not have to put any kind of limit on a person’s capabilities. In fact, so open is Joanna about her condition, that her YouTube channel even features a number of wig reviews.
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.