Culture

Sitting In with Elise Chabbey

The Bigla-Katusha rider left med school to be a pro cyclist. Now she's working the front lines at a Geneva hospital.

Member Exclusive

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Start Free Trial

Already a member?

Sign In

Bigla-Katusha’s Elise Chabbey has quite the backstory. Prior to becoming a pro cyclist, Chabbey was an Olympic Kayaker and a medical student. Now, at 26, she is working on the front lines of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic at a hospital in Geneva.

How did you progress from kayaking to medicine?

I started kayaking really young, maybe when I was 5. And then when I was 12-13 I really got into it and started actually training. I focused on kayaking for nearly 10 years and was selected on the Swiss national team for the 2012 Olympics when I was just 19. But while it was exciting to be at the Olympics, I only finished 20th. In 2013 I went to Australia to really focus on kayaking, but I really wasn’t satisfied with the results and decided to start focusing on my studies. I am not even sure why I chose medicine, but once I started, I quickly realized that I just wouldn’t have time for kayaking.

And how did you find cycling?

At first when I started my studies, I felt like I needed to take a break from elite sports. I started running as I needed to do something physical and running was the most accessible thing. Before I knew it I started doing some races. Soon enough I got picked up by the Scott trail team and started competing again. But then I had a stress fracture and couldn’t run for like six months. I could only cycle. I had a great year in 2019 in the end, especially considering that I barely could ride in the bunch at the start of the year! Winning the climbing award at La Course was probably my best result. But just starting the Giro for me was a dream come true. But that said, it was just a couple of weeks before my exams.

So you were riding the women’s Giro and doing homework after the stages?

Yes exactly. Any moment where I had a free second, I had to study. As a result, once I finished my exams I really wanted to focus on my cycling. I had my diploma as a doctor, but I just figured that I could take a year off before really starting to practice and finally focus on cycling, especially since the Olympics were coming up and the world championships were going to be in Switzerland this year. I am only 26 and I really felt like I had a lot of room to improve on the bike.

Chabbey at work. Photo: Chris Graythen / Getty Images

What led you to then decide to work on the COVID-19 crisis?

The Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) asked me if I could come in for a week or two. But considering the current situation, I decided to stay. At first I was very upset when they canceled the Strade Bianche. I was really disappointed. But now I am at the hospital I understand just how serious the problem is.

Are you still able to train?

I do what I can to work out after work. Currently running or riding on the trainer is all I can do until the season starts again. But this is bigger than sport and we have to accept the reality of the situation. I realized quickly that it really did me a lot of good to be at the hospital and doing something that is so needed. I can leave whenever I want, but I quickly decided to stay. I feel like I am more useful here right now than if I were on my bike.

Do you plan to return to pro cycling?

I am really sad because this was my year to focus on cycling and suddenly all of my plans changed. But I just try to put everything in perspective. It could be a lot worse and there a lot of people that are sick or who have lost their jobs. That is not my case. But yes, I still hope to be able to focus on my objectives once we are through this and my goal will be to focus on cycling next year. I’m only 26, but mostly I just think that I can still really improve as a cyclist.

Get to know Elise

First bike? Giant road bike

Favorite race? Giro Rosa

Favorite ride? Mont Salève