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Ellen Noble has decided to take time away from racing as she looks to focus on her physical and mental health.
In an emotional video on her Instagram page, the pro mountain bike and cyclocross racer described the decision as “simultaneously devastating and euphoric.” She also talked about the illness and injuries that have disrupted her career in recent years, and the mental toll that it has taken on her.
Noble was keen to impress that this would just be a pause on her career and the 26-year-old fully intends to be back as soon as her health picks up.
“It’s been hard to find the words and really speak them out loud but I guess I should get right into it. I am taking a step back from professional bike racing. Not forever, but for right now. It’s hard to say out loud but I know that for me a step back is the only way forward,” Noble said.
With a lot of hurdles to overcome during the last three years, Noble said she had been driven by the desire to get back to racing and hadn’t taken the time to consider the impact each setback had on her.
“I feel that I’ve lost a lot. I let go of a lot; my Olympic dreams, I let go of my competitive edge. In a lot of ways, I felt that I had lost my career. When you’re a professional athlete, your career is your whole life,” Noble said.
“I had never stopped to consider the impact that these losses and my illness had taken on me. I just forged forward, and it was comeback, comeback, comeback. It finally caught up with me and my body said no more. I say that I made the decision to take a sabbatical but, in reality, my body took the decision long before I accepted it.”
While Noble has suffered challenges over the last three years, she also recognized the positive impact that her career and the community have had on her.
“I feel that I’ve lost so much but I feel that I’ve gained so much more than I ever thought possible. I’m so grateful for the last 20 years of my life that I’ve dedicated to bike racing,” she said. “I’ve watched some of my wildest dreams come true.
“I went toe to toe with some of the best racers in the world and, most importantly, I met the most incredible people through it all. The connections, friendships, lessons, and love I found off the racecourse through bike racing is more than I can ever put into words. That’s why I’m not saying goodbye forever.”
Noble’s difficulties began toward the end of 2018 while enjoying some of the best form she’d ever had. It wasn’t until the end of 2019 that she would be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an auto-immune disease that attacks your thyroid, after several months of chasing a diagnosis.
“The past three years have been incredibly hard. Around this time in 2018, I was having the best season of my career when I began to feel off. It seems as though one day I just lost my spark,” she said. “My drive to win was gone, my energy was gone, my mood had shifted, and I watched my body change right before my own eyes.
“Ten months later, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and everything began to make sense, except it never really made sense but at least I knew what I was up against. I floundered and got continually sicker for months but slowly I found my stride, and in the summer of 2020, I thought the worst was behind me. I found the best health and fitness of my life and I carried that health into a great off-season and then I began training again for my much-anticipated return to cross-country racing.”
Noble began 2021 with big hopes after a year with hardly any bike racing. However, she crashed in the opening meters of her first race back in April and discovered several days later that she had broken her back.
It was a huge blow, physically and mentally, for Noble to deal with and she struggled with her recovery. Having been excited for her return to racing, she dreaded it when the time came again in the fall.
She began her sabbatical on October 1 after contesting some cyclocross races in September.
“When I broke my back, I also shattered my health,” she said. “In my recovery, I dealt with new symptoms that I’d never dealt with before, constant severe bloating, rashes on my arms and eyes, exhaustion like I’d never felt before, physical pain and emotional volatility while riding my bike, nausea, pelvic pain, and depression. I had never felt so unwell in my entire life.
“As the ’cross season approached, I felt nothing but dread. My depression was the worst that it had ever been. A couple of races into the season, I DNF’d feeling completely empty. I didn’t even have it in me to feel sad anymore, I was simply shattered from the exhaustion of the last three years.”