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Olympic Cyclist Joanna Rowsell Spins Hair Loss Into Gold
Whizzing around the London’s Olympic Park Velodrome racetrack with her red aerodynamic helmet and flat black bicycle, Joanna Rowsell looked nearly identical to her British teammates. However, after the winning the event, casting her gear aside, and rising to receive the gold medal for Team Pursuit Cycling Rowsell immediately stood out, revealing a shockingly hairless head and confident smile. The 23-year-old from Sutton, England has a rare condition known as alopecia areata, which caused the majority of her hair to fall out at age 10. According to Rowsell though, hair loss has never slowed her down. Instead, she believes her disease granted her the focus and motivation to achieve Olympic greatness.
Rowsell is one of an estimated 5 million people worldwide who suffer from alopecia areata. For reasons not entirely understood by science, the immune system of those with the condition begins attacking hair follicles as if they are foreign bodies and inhibiting growth. The resulting hair fall begins with small spots on the scalp before slowly spreading to the face, body, and legs. Rowsell was diagnosed with the disease in 1998 and recalls shedding eyelashes as she cried, all the while asking her parents why such a thing would happen to her. “I was gutted,” Rowsell told VeloNews, “I had loved having my long hair in plaits.”
And as her hair fell, Rowsell’s confidence dropped with it. The cyclist described donning wigs and hats to hide the loss, becoming reclusive, and disappearing into her schoolwork as means of coping. Fortunately, that all changed when she discovered cycling. “I wasn’t really confident on going out and doing the usual teenage things,” Rowsell told reporters after her gold medal victory. “But when cycling came along that was another thing for me to focus on and suddenly it didn’t matter what I looked like, it was about how I performed on the bike and that’s what I was judged on. That was great.”
According to Rowsell, she became addicted to riding her bicycle, and soon after, hooked on winning awards. Her hair grew back at age 16, an event she attributes to the burst of happiness she experienced from cycling, but the modest growth fell out again only six months later. At that point it didn’t matter though; she had found her true calling and never looked back. “I wasn’t going to stop,” stated Rowsell. “I wasn’t going to let it hold me back.”
The performance of Rowsell and her teammates, Dani King and Laura Trott, not only edged out the USA’s women’s cycling team for the gold, it also set a world record time of three minutes, fourteen seconds for the 3,000 meter course. And their victory couldn’t have fallen on a more serendipitous date. The day of the final Team Pursuit race, August 4th, coincided with International Alopecia Day, a holiday designated for raising awareness of alopecia areata, alopecia totalis, and androgenic alopecia. Having Rowsell on the podium and baring her head for the world to see has made her an inspiration for millions of hair loss sufferers, a role she’s now learning to embrace.
“It was a bit overwhelming at first and I was a bit shocked, because I don’t want to be known as the girl with alopecia; I don’t want that to be what defines me,” Rowsell admitted to The Daily Mail. “But I’ve realized now that I’ve got a responsibility as such. It’s always going to be a part of me, so I may as well embrace it and hopefully inspire other girls.”
While Rowsell plans to continue racing and educating people about her condition, scientists from around the globe are hard at work searching for a cure for all alopecias. In the meantime, treatments to restore lost hair, such as hair transplantation surgery, are available. If you’re experiencing hair loss and want to do something about it, contact us today. Hair Loss Specialists can schedule you a convenient personal consultation at any location in our nationwide network of hair loss experts.