Olympic champion boosts cycling bid

Olympic cycling champion Joanna Rowsell has met youngsters who also suffer from a hair loss condition and told them "there is nothing that you cannot do in this life if you put your mind to it".

Rowsell, 24, has suffered from alopecia since she was 10 but has refused to let it affect her determination to race. She won gold in the women's team pursuit alongside Dani King and Laura Trott at the London 2012 Olympics.

Rowsell spoke to youngsters from Alopecia UK during a trip to the Wheels for Wellbeing riding project in Croydon, south London, which helps disabled people to learn to cycle using a wide range of specially-designed bikes.

"Alopecia is a part of my life and I want people to know that there is nothing that you cannot do in this life if you put your mind to it," she said. "Alopecia does not stop you living your life and achieving your dreams."

After roaring to Olympic victory at London 2012 Rowsell removed her helmet to reveal she is almost totally bald. She decided to collect her gold medal in front of a worldwide audience of millions without her wig.

The determined and ambitious athlete has said the unpredictable nature of the condition was not necessarily easy for her as a teenager but she managed to be quite accepting of it. It might also have spurred her on to be even more focused, she suggested.

Wheels for Wellbeing has just received £10,000 of Lottery funding which has been earmarked to help the blind and partially-sighted. The money is to be spent on tandem bicycles for bike ballet, a form of outdoor dance performances on bikes.

Wheels for Wellbeing director Isabelle Clement said: "We are very excited at the prospect of reaching more blind and visually impaired cyclists through working with Tandem Ballet - Joanna has been a huge inspiration for the youngsters today."

The teenage alopecia sufferers who attended the visit all use Headzup, an online advice and support forum which was set up with £4,500 of Lottery funding.

Alopecia affects men, women and children but its exact cause is still unknown. It is generally believed to be a disease of the immune system. It is often sudden, random and can frequently recur which means that while it is not damaging to physical health, alopecia can deal a severe blow to a sufferers' confidence and self-esteem, according to Alopecia UK.