Rider reveals the highs and lows of competing while undergoing chemo: ‘I felt pressure to snap back to normal’

  • Warwickshire-based showjumper Georgina Round is one of the brightest talents on the British showjumping circuit. The 30-year-old made her international debut four years ago and, under the expert tutelage of her trainers Adam and Jessica Botham, Georgina has been making strong progress through the ranks.

    One of her greatest achievements came in last year’s Longines Global Champions Tour of London where she teamed up with the mare Musicmaker to win the CSI2* two-phase class. This would be a real moment of crowning glory for any rider and one she describes as “just amazing – it couldn’t have worked out any better”, but all the more so for Georgina, because behind the scenes she has been undergoing gruelling treatment for breast cancer.

    While horses have provided a wonderful tonic, giving her a reason to “get out of bed every morning”, the side-effects of the chemotherapy have left her floored and frustrated at times. But with inspirational determination, she’s continued to work hard to continue her showjumping career despite “difficult” times for her, her family and the Botham team, all of whom have been pillars of support to Georgina.

    “George’s chemo was on a four-week cycle and the final week before she had the next one, she’d feel ready to ride again at a show so we planned shows around that fourth week,” explains her trainer Adam, who with Jess has kept her horses fit and running “for whenever she feels ready”.

    “George and her mum [Kim Tomkins] were saying ‘Wow, it’s amazing what you’ve done’. But it’s what anybody would do to help in a situation like that,” says Adam modestly.

    ‘A focus to get up every morning’

    According to Jess, keeping the horses going has helped to give Georgina motivation, even during the toughest times.

    “I think it’s the same for anyone who’s ill, she had a focus to get up every morning and come down to the yard, even if she couldn’t ride herself,” says Jess. “She’d come down and see the horses or watch us ride them. So it got her out of bed every morning. Then it was two weeks and we’d be off to the Globals, or Arena UK. I think that helped her a lot. We were just getting stuck in, but to her it meant so much.”

    Team Botham at home

    Georgina Round (fourth from right) at home with Team Botham, her pillars of support

    A crunch point came earlier this year, however, when Georgina joined Team Botham on the Spanish Sunshine Tour in Spain. With her top horse, “my comfort blanket”, out injured, she took three new horses sourced for her by Adam – the 15-year-old mare Creme De La Creme 6, the eight-year-old mare Angelique Z and nine-year-old Cajou Van Overis Z.

    “I felt a lot of pressure to snap back to normal,” she says. “I tried to jump too big, I kept falling off and I kept crying.”

    Adams says he’s “as much to blame” for the setback.

    “Once she was through it all [the chemo], I said ‘Right, let’s go’,” says Adam. “I thought after a couple of rounds in the ring, she’d be back in the big classes and that’s where George wanted to be.

    “But we both just tried to run before we could walk. We didn’t put enough thought into how much it had taken out of George physically, mentally, confidence wise, everything. So we’ve had to say OK rewind, let’s start again!”

    Georgina Round: “Let’s jump the 1.40m!”

    Since returning from Spain, Georgina has been back in action on home soil, taking things slowly in the ring – not something that comes naturally to this ambitious and accomplished rider.

    “I’m not overly happy about jumping the small classes, I’m doing it because I’m told – we’ve decided I can’t make good decisions for myself anymore!” says Georgina with her typically jovial spirit. “In my head I’ve jumped a 1.20m, so I’ll say let’s jump the 1.40m! So Adam is in control of my life choices now.

    “I felt a lot of pressure just to snap back to normal and it was really frustrating when it wasn’t working. I also have the fear of missing out – I’m there at every show.”

    Adam refers back to some words of wisdom from the showjumper Trevor Banks, for whom he used to work.

    “He was of the Ted Edgar era and he always used to say ‘You jump 1.10m classes and only when you win a 1.10m can you jump a 1.20m; when you win a 1.20m you can jump a 1.30m’ and so on,” says Adam. “Until you can win one, you don’t move up a level. So I said to George, ‘Right that’s what we’re doing – the old Banksy system!’

    “It actually makes sense because it’s not just about going flat out to win, you have to be in control to turn inside, make the right decisions, go on a bigger pace, so there’s more to it than going off like a scalded cat and, if you manage to win it, move up. If you can win a class you’re confident that you’re riding properly. So that’s what we’re doing now.

    “I don’t want to always be the one saying no, but she’s the one trying to get her belief and confidence back, so we came to an agreement and it’s working – but it’s been difficult!”

    We wish Georgina Round all the best with her continued recuperation and do look out for her in the ring – she has all the determination and talent to go far, all with a little help from her friends.

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