Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In



Back from the brink: Ayesha McGowan ready to race after illness ruined her WorldTour debut

The American racer had 12 fibroids removed from her uterus after suffering from crippling digestion issues.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Ayesha McGowan finally achieved her dream last year by earning a WorldTour contract with Liv Racing Xstra, but it came to an abrupt stop less than two months in.

McGowan suffered from digestion issues for more than five years, but it came to a head early last year when she was struggling to eat what she needed to sustain herself.

Just six races, five of which had ended with DNFs, into her season, the 35-year-old had to pull the plug on her program.

After undergoing medical tests, McGowan was diagnosed with uterine fibroids and underwent surgery in June. Now fully recovered and with another yearlong contract on the table with the team, which is now called Liv Racing TeqFind, she is raring to go.

“I’m really excited. I just want to get going. I feel like the past few years, I’ve had these huge training blocks to prepare for things, and then something happened. And so I really want to have a full season this year and finally show myself what I can do,” McGowan told VeloNews.

“I look at it as like a pre-surgery me and post-surgery. Post-surgery me is so much better, like, much healthier all around happier all around, far less stressed. It was really frustrating.

“Not just the training load, which I can handle, but not being able to eat food and my body not functioning, the way that it just needed to exist, let alone be a professional athlete, was incredibly challenging. Now that I can do things, it just feels so great.”

Also read:

Uterine fibroids are growths made of muscle and fibrous tissue that can develop in the womb and can be as small as a pea or as big as a melon. They are non-cancerous, but they can still cause pain and, in some circumstances, lead to digestive issues.

McGowan’s troubles began back in 2016, but doctors were unable to diagnose the problem. Initially, it was a manageable problem, but it continued to get worse until it came to a head at the start of 2022.

When she saw a doctor in Spain, he was amazed she had been able to continue functioning.

In total, surgeons removed 12 fibroids from McGowan. The fibrous masses had been putting pressure on her organs, preventing her body from working as it should.

“It was very frustrating, and I just could not figure it out. Over time, it just kept getting worse and worse and there was there didn’t seem to be a solution, because there didn’t seem to be a problem. Things were wrong, but nobody knew what,” she said.

“When I was in America, I couldn’t get a clear diagnosis that it was related to the gastrointestinal issues. I was told that it wasn’t a problem, it was fine and I could deal with it later. And I’m like, ‘I don’t know. I feel like this is the only thing that my body is telling me is wrong.’ Last season was so bad. In the beginning, I couldn’t function.

“I went to a gynecologist in Girona. He basically yelled at me. ‘Why have you waited so long to fix this?’ It was blocking my intestines and it was moving things around my organs. It was really bad. They didn’t know how I was walking around every day.”

Getting back to normal and racing

After recovering from the surgery, McGowan is completely clear of the digestion issues she had been dealing with for so long.

Food had become such a challenge for her that she had created a spreadsheet detailing which foods she could and couldn’t eat, color-coding them with red for those that were a no-go. Most of them were red.

Even fairly benign foods like tomatoes and green vegetables were difficult to eat. Now she has the food world at her fingers, but it’s not easy to be comfortable with food when you’ve spent so long worrying about what it will do to you.

“Psychologically, it’s had a huge impact, because my diet had changed so drastically,” McGowan told VeloNews. “I couldn’t eat anything and so it has led to some food insecurities, where I feel scared of a lot of things. I’m way more cautious than before all of this happened, and so now I’m learning to trust that I can eat a thing and that it won’t make me feel terrible.

“I have been working with a nutritionist and right now we’re focusing on quantity over quality. A big problem that I had in the past is that I just wasn’t eating enough because food was scary, and so now that’s the focus just making sure I’m eating.”

With her health concerns behind her, McGowan can finally focus on taking her opportunity to race in the WorldTour. She knows from her time as a stagiaire that she has what it takes to mix with the pro peloton, but she hasn’t had the opportunity to really push herself across a whole season.

This season is about doing that and supporting her teammates as best as possible.

“I’ve never had a full European season and so I’m really hoping to just find my comfort zone in the peloton. I’m generally a pretty bold, not aggressive, but an adventurous type of racer, I don’t like to just sit back and see what happens,” she said.

“I really like to be a part of things and so I’m really hoping that I can find that. The fitness and the confidence to be that again because I race bikes because I love it. I love how fun it is, and I really want to have fun. I think that makes it fun to do and fun to watch. I think it’s great for the sport when people race brazenly.”

This year will also give McGowan an opportunity to see what kind of bike racer she can be and what races really suit her.

“When I started, just because of the nature of American racing, I favored being a sprinter,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m a super sprinter anymore and I also don’t feel like I’m a super climber. I’m something in between, so I feel like trying to make myself as versatile as possible is going to come to my benefit. I don’t foresee myself being a specialist in either one of those directions. I identify as more of a puncheur, but we’ll see.

“Being in bad health made bike racing not so much fun last year. So this year, I’m just really looking forward to having a good time and finding what those favorite races are.”