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ROULEUR ISSUE 19.6 - NOW AVAILABLE

“The biggest heart and the softest soul” – Memories of Sharon Laws, 1974-2017

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Those who knew Sharon Laws share their memories of the former British champion, who passed away on December 16, aged 43

Photographs: Iris Slappendel
Sharon Laws

Sharon Laws had a remarkable career in professional cycling. An environmental consultant until the age of 33, she swapped the office desk for the nomadic life of the pro rider in 2008, helping Nicole Cooke win road race gold at the Beijing Olympics.

 

With stints on Cervélo Test Team, Garmin, AA Drink, Unitedhealthcare and Bigla, she was a domestique de luxe for the likes of Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Pooley, able to win national titles in the road race, time trial and mountain bike in her own right. In 2014, she was crowned Queen of the Mountains in the inaugural Women’s Tour.

 

Laws was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016. It took away the future she had planned for herself beyond cycling, but she refused to let her illness interrupt her enjoyment of life.

 

In 2017, she commentated on the Women’s Tour and La Course while continuing to ride herself, taking part in the Road to Taiwan KoM Challenge in August.

 

It was that enthusiasm for life – her energy and her unstoppable laugh – that is her lasting legacy. Team-mates, colleagues and friends at home share with us their own memories of Sharon Laws, who passed away on December 16 at home in the Cotswolds.

 

Sharon Laws in Taiwan: Hello, it’s me

 

Nikki Brammeier, GB team-mate and fellow Girona resident

Sharon was one of those people who only come into your life on rare occasions. If you had been given the opportunity to meet her, she would be someone you certainly wouldn’t forget. She was a one-off in many ways – and when I say that, I mean a one-off in the best way.

 

My fondest memories of Sharon are of her walking around races with her little ‘Sharon shopping bag’ over her shoulder, packed full of weird stuff like tahini, nut butter and rice crackers. Her laugh and lust for life were contagious.

 

Outside of cycling I would meet her for coffee in one of her favourite places, Girona. She would casually turn up (always 30 minutes later than planned) on her town bike, strapped with various items such as paddle boards, boxes of figs which she had foraged, and a tent from her latest travels.

 

She was an explorer and I loved to listen to her latest adventures: she would catch a bus into the mountains on her own and set up camp alone. To me that was not only ridiculous but just summed Sharon up in a nutshell.

 

She lived her life to the full, she didn’t waste a moment of it and she fought her cancer head on. She didn’t let this disease stop her from enjoying her time here, instead she made the most of every last bit of it. I will always carry a piece of Sharon with me; she won’t be forgotten and I will really miss her.

 

Iris Slappendel, team-mate at Cervélo Test Team and Unitedhealthcare

I remember the first time that I saw Sharon very well. We were racing a World Cup race in Plouay when the person next to me in the bunch pulled a paper handkerchief out of her back pocket to clean her nose (and she put it back in!) It was the only time I’ve ever seen someone doing that in a race. A year later, we were teammates at the Cervélo Test Team. A friendship was born and she never stopped surprising me.

 

Sharon has been a huge inspiration for me and will always be. The way she coped with her cancer was amazing. Although I’m so sad, I feel also very blessed to have had a friend like Sharon. I will miss her sweetness, energy and enthusiasm but above all her big smile and contagious laugh.

Sharon Laws

Read: Sharon Laws: Defying Convention an interview with Sharon on coping with chemotherapy and making the most out of life

 

David Morgan, friend

Riding the Cotswolds with Sharon was always fun. It was never just a ride, we often had to go shopping too, at the farm stores. We would come back with sourdough bread, goat’s cheese, quails eggs, kale, apples – you name it, Sharon would put it in a backpack or up her jersey.

 

I remember riding 50 kilometres to her favourite quails egg shop only to find that the quails had been eaten by a fox! Even the conservationist in Sharon was able to manage a smile at that. We went back a month later to get those eggs, and somehow they made it home in one piece.

 

Laura Winter, colleague at Voxwomen

My enduring memory of Sharon will be on our Tuesday Club rides in Gloucestershire. We would ride 65 miles or so, and while I was puffing and panting up Cotswolds hills, she would glide up beside me, chatting away.

 

When we got home, she’d choose to ‘do a loop’ up one of the steepest hills in the area, before heading down to Sandford Parks Lido and swimming 5km. All this, with cancer. There was no stopping her. She was a fighter and an inspiration. We could all do with being a bit more like Sharon Laws.

 

Hannah Mayho, GB team-mate

I first met Sharon as a first year U23 on the Great Britain Cycling Academy. We were racing as a national team and Sharon met us in Holland. As she had been to the Beijing Olympics the previous year I was a little in awe, but Sharon couldn’t have been any more down to earth and welcoming.

 

Over the past eight years since that first meeting, Sharon has kept us all well entertained with her various stories, such as the time she dropped her flat keys in the River Thames and had to go swimming for them (I’m sure someone else will mention this too!). She was really like no one else I had ever met.

 

On our first ride together, one of the team punctured so we stopped at the side of the road. When the puncture was fixed we turned around and Sharon was nowhere to be seen. Sure enough, she had disappeared down the road to go and pick some wild berries and returned with a handful of them, offering them around! No gels for Sharon!

 

Later on the ride, she pointed out an apple tree and I’m pretty sure that had we punctured again, she would have shimmied up there and returned with her jersey pockets stuffed full of fruit.

Emma Pooley, teammate on GB, Cervélo, Garmin & AA-Drinks

One team mechanic nicknamed Sharon “hummingbird” because she was always moving – and in many ways it is a perfect metaphor for Sharon: tiny, exotic, fast-moving, brightly coloured, and she did love honey!

 

She infuriated team directors (and sometimes even her roommates) with her inability to be still and rest. For the three years we were on the same professional team, Sharon and I were often designated roomies because we were the “difficult” ones – the ones who wanted to go out riding before breakfast or do extra kilometres for coffee!

 

One of my happiest memories with Sharon was the day after the world championship road race in Geelong 2010 – it was my birthday, so we set off at 6am (after not many hours’ sleep) to ride down the beautiful coast road to Torquay for coffee with a view of the ocean. An early ride and coffee with Sharon was the best birthday treat.

 

Saskia van Vuuren, Brit King and Leigh Mosley, friends in Girona and South Africa

For most Sharon was the pro cyclist. For us she was just crazy Shazza. We formed a lovely little friendship circle with herself. From Stellies [Stellenbosch, South Africa] to Girona we all shared countless stories either individually or together.

 

Sharon sometimes needed sorting out with her crazy schedule. We supplied the tea, the wine, the ears and the unsolicited advice about life. We didn’t even understand the full extent of her greatness in the cycling world. For us she was just our fruit-picking, thoughtful, nomadic friend.

 

She remembered every special occasion. Bought us coffees when we’d been up all night with our babies. Cooked us amazing dinners with foods we couldn’t even pronounce. Drove us crazy when she’d go AWOL in the mountains for a few days and leave us organising search helicopters to find her. Then she’d suddenly pop up in the middle of nowhere and wonder why we were so worried!

 

There’s the time she rang Leigh from Girona to tell her that her husband had crashed while they were out training together. Sharon looked after him, got him to hospital, translated everything, organised his surgery, then visited him every day with food and good humour.

 

For us, Sharon had the biggest heart and the softest soul. She was a busy person with plans and dreams like the rest of us. We feel extremely lucky to have been part of Sharon’s life and will always remember her eternal smile.

Katie Colclough, team-mate on GB and Halfords BikeHut

Sharon was like a never-ending story book of adventures. However it always amazed me that for a creature of the outdoors, Sharon managed to live for many years in London and some of these stories were my favourites.

 

They ranged from jumping into the Thames one morning after accidentally dropping her keys in the river when running to work, to her camping trips on a weekday evening and going back to the office job the next day.

 

Sharon would tell these stories in her classic way that suggest they were not that extraordinary and that most people lived their life this way. Sharon’s stories always demonstrated her genuine, thoughtful and considerate nature as well as her ability not to conform or really worry too much about what people thought of her.

 

Lucy Martin, GB team-mate and fellow Girona resident

Sharon was the most kind-hearted and caring person I have ever met, with so much determination and commitment. She lived life to the full with so many great adventures around the world.

I still don’t know anybody who can fit so many things into one day: she was always the first one up and in the swimming pool or on the rollers, just doing every single thing possible to be the very best she could be.

 

She was a huge inspiration for me in cycling and we shared many great moments together on and off the bike, often me trying to keep up with her while she went off to do her 25th interval of the ride.

 

I will always remember her quirky little ways, never leaving the house without her ‘Sharon bag’ full of nuts, seeds and tahini. Her enthusiasm and signature smile will never be forgotten.

Rachel Hedderman, manager at United Healthcare

I have plenty of Sharon “perpetual motion” stories, but perhaps the one that sticks out the most is from earlier this year when I went to visit her at home.

 

I had to delay my visit by a few hours as she’d had to stay in hospital overnight due to a fever, but when I arrived she whipped up an incredible lunch of foods I’d mainly never heard of, but that tasted amazing, and then post lunch suggested we stick with our original plan of a bike ride.

 

Despite her mum’s insistence that we go out for an hour maximum, Sharon took me on a two and a half hour tour through the Cotswold lanes, chatting non-stop about bike rides and hikes she had planned, and just enjoying herself. We arrived home in the dark, me exhausted, her bright and cheery having spent the afternoon doing what she loved. Sharon was determined her illness wouldn’t define her or dictate what she could or couldn’t do.