Overcoming adversity, prioritising mental wellbeing, and striving for elite success: Aimi Kenyon's journey

At just 18 years old, downhill mountain bike racer Aimi Kenyon has already overcome major challenges in her sporting career. From suffering a severe concussion to claiming national junior titles and making waves on the world stage, Aimi’s story is one of resilience and perseverance.

Where it all began

Growing up in a household of cycling enthusiasts, Aimi was taken along to the Black Isle Mountain Bike Club when she was just 9 years old. From there, she started competing in cross-country racing but soon after, discovered her love for downhill racing.

“It sounds weird, but I love pushing myself to the point that it’s quite scary. You can’t think of anything else in those moments, so it feels very freeing,” Aimi told us.

Since those initial races, Aimi has gone from strength to strength and has made her mark on the sport internationally.

Last year she was crowned British Junior Champion at the National Downhill Championship at Rhyd-Y-Felin in Wales. The junior title came just a month after Aimi made the podium to take second place at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Saalfelden Leogang, Austria.

As an outsider, Aimi’s 2023 season looks like one that any athlete would dream of. What the spectators did not see, however, was the journey of recovery she had been on for the year previous.

A halt in the journey

In August 2022 at the Les Gets World Championships, Aimi’s front wheel sipped on a road gap jump during a race and her head hit the floor.

“I felt a bit weird after, but I really wanted to keep racing which obviously looking back now, I know was a mistake,” she said.

Aimi went ahead and raced the following weekend too but said that she knew something wasn’t quite right.

“When I got home, I had so little energy, I started to notice that my speech was slow, and I was having dizzy blackout spells,” she explained.

“I really felt like my whole life changed within a week.”

The road to recovery  

After Aimi's symptoms only appeared to be getting worse, she visited a concussion clinic down in Leeds. Brain scans confirmed her concussion and showed that certain parts of her brain were working against each other.

For the next 7 months, Aimi’s head injury meant her life changed drastically from travelling and being outdoors on her bike every day to being back home in Inverness recovering.

“During that period, I found myself really keeping to myself and not even going to see my friends. It was really tough,” she said.

Following her brain scans in Leeds, Aimi had been given a Vielight headpiece to use in the mornings and at night to aid her recovery.

“The headpiece gave me wee boosts of energy and made me feel normal for short periods. I guess that helped me to see that there was a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Back on track

After over half a year out of the sport, Aimi finally got back on her bike. Sharing that it had felt daunting at first, Aimi said that she quickly felt overcome with relief that she could ride again.

“I guess it’s always going to be difficult to put yourself in a position where that could happen again,” she said.

“But it was just so good to get that feeling back and know that I hadn’t lost my love for it.”

Almost a full year on from the crash that caused her concussion, Aimi stood on the podium in second place at the World Cup event in Austria and just a month later was crowned British Junior Champion.

Overcoming adversity: looking after the mind

Aimi’s story of resilience and perseverance doesn’t stop there, however. Just a month after Junior Championships she was back on the bike, hoping for another podium result, this time at home at the Fort William World Championships.

“I had a crash in practice, and it threw me off a lot more during the race than I’d expected,” she said.

“I ended up coming fourth which was pretty heartbreaking considering I’d expected to win or at least make the podium.”

When asked how she was able to overcome that setback, Aimi told us:

“It sounds silly but in the pits at the bottom of the track, I always have a colouring book so I can just sit, calm myself down, and get back in the zone.

“That’s something I’ve worked on overtime, and I definitely prioritise my mental training and wellbeing more now after my concussion.”

Emphasising that her mind is just as important as her body when it comes to competing, Aimi told us that she also uses reading and meditation as a way to take a break from all the physical training that comes with the sport.

“It’s very easy to worry that others are training more than you and put pressure on yourself to be doing as much as you can when, in actual fact, if you don’t take time to look after yourself, you’ll be exhausted before the season even begins.”

Elite ambitions

When we spoke to Aimi she was in Poland and told us she would be heading to Austria then Italy and France over the next 2 months for training and competition. In her first year as an elite, she has a packed schedule of races which comes with extensive travel.

When she does go away, Aimi is grateful that some of her travel costs are covered by the sportscotland Athlete Travel Award Scheme.

When asked what her goals are for the year ahead, Aimi told us:

“I guess my big goal just now is to qualify for my first elite world cup.

“The rules for that are quite tight so it’s definitely going to be an intense year so I’m trying to keep my mind open to what could happen.

“If all goes well and I do qualify, however, I will take it from there.”

Find out more

  • The sportscotland Athlete Travel Award Scheme (ATAS) supports travel costs for Highland and island competitors to help talented athletes from the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland and Highland to gain better access to competitive and developmental opportunities available on the mainland. Successful applicants benefit from up to £1,500 to support travel and accommodation costs in attending training and competitions.
  • To find out more about the ATAS fund across the Highlands and Islands, visit: Athlete Travel Award Scheme (ATAS) - sportscotland the national agency for sport in Scotland

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