Amy Williams: Ice queen swaps pain for rally thrills

Story highlights

Amy Williams has swapped skeleton racing for rally driving

The Briton will co-driver at the final round of the World Rally Championship

Williams won Britain's first individual Winter Games gold medal at Vancouver 2010

The 31-year-old has set her sights on sailing around the world in inflatable vessel

CNN —  

Pain, pain and more pain. Amy Williams is an expert in discomfort.

Plagued by a chronic knee complaint, the 31-year-old has had numerous epidural injections to soothe three swollen vertebrae and she suffers almost constant sciatica.

Not to mention the degenerative disc in her neck.

These injuries are legacy of a death-defying decade in skeleton racing – 10 years of hurling herself headfirst down an icy track in pursuit of golden glory has come at a cost.

“I’m pretty much broken between my back and my knees,” says the Briton, who won gold at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.

“I got to the point where I was so blinkered and obsessed by winning a medal that I put all of the physical pain to one side.

“After winning gold suddenly that pain that had been with me for years and years became too much.

“I thought, ‘That’s enough now.’ “

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Nearly four years after that career-defining success, and despite physical complaints which would halt even the most relentless athlete, Williams is back in search of a new adrenaline rush as she pushes against the pain barrier.

Instead of being in a final buildup to February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, she’s now in the passenger seat of a Mitsubishi rally car, preparing for a new white-knuckle ride.

Williams will co-drive for veteran compatriot Tony Jardine at this weekend’s final round of the World Rally Championships in Wales.

“I’ve enjoyed getting in the car and the thrill you get from it, it’s definitely replaced something I’ve lost since retiring from skeleton,” she told CNN.

“It’s physically not the same demands on your body, so that suits me.”

Rallying is a discipline in which competitors traverse public and private roads at breakneck speeds.

While the driver is straining to keep the car on course, the co-driver navigates from point-to-point along a route littered with twists and turns.

There are spectators in close proximity and the threat of a high-speed collision is never far away.

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“I’ve surprised myself not being more nervous,” confessed Williams. “Certainly the skills I had in skeleton and being a world-class athlete has definitely transferred into the rallying.”

Jardine is a rally veteran who has enjoyed a career as a respected motorsport broadcaster and television pundit.

It was TV which prompted him to contact Williams when the 61-year-old saw her co-driving during an appearance on a British comedy show.

Not that her new role is one to be taken lightly.

The co-driver, as well as being an unofficial team manager and timekeeper, is responsible for memorizing the route and relaying exact instructions.

The driver must trust his partner implicitly.

“I’ve been thrown in at the deep end,” continued Williams, who only obtained her license to compete this weekend after completing a series of minor rallies across the UK.

“It’s quite a mind-boggling amount of information I’m being given each rally. So it’s been really tough, a lot tougher than I thought, physical and mentally.

“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve not been anxious or worried or put off by the speed of the car, whereas I guess most people would be.

“Tony has put a lot into me and you feel a pressure to perform. We’ve given ourselves a big challenge to complete in Wales.”

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Compared to other divisions of motorsport such as Formula One and MotoGP, rallying can appear lacking in glamor.

Think muddy puddles rather than perfectly preened pit girls.

And while the likes of F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and MotoGP prodigy Marc Marquez bask in the limelight, rallying’s stars rarely occupy back-page column inches.

This disparity irks Williams, especially when WRC boasts a champion as dominant as Sebastian Loeb – the French master who has won the title in each of the last nine years.

“Rallying is not a sport you see on the back pages all of the time but they’re such skilled drivers,” she said.

“The teamwork between the co-driver and the driver is incredible. I really admire that and I think it’s a shame it’s not out there as something everyone knows of.”

Skeleton is another sport which rarely commands media attention, but, between 2002 and 2010, it demanded Williams’ complete concentration.

And eight years after first attempting the event at a push-start facility in Bath, England, Williams was stood at the top of the podium.

Not that her journey was all smooth sliding.

Williams missed out on a spot at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin to compatriot Shelley Rudman, who went on to clinch a silver medal.

Four years of fierce dedication followed and the result was a gold medal for which her body is still paying the price.

While she is pleased to be heading to Russia’s first Winter Games as a broadcaster, Williams fully expects to feel pangs of regret once the Olympic cauldron is officially lit.

“Emotionally I might find going to Sochi very tough,” she said.

“There is still a big part of me that would love to compete. I still feel that I could definitely get another Olympic medal, but I had to listen to what my body was telling me.

“I listened to the sports doctors and they were telling me to retire years ago. So that’s why I’ve stopped.”

So for now, rallying has sated Williams’ competitive appetite.

In the future, however, she might have to take to the high seas to quench her thirst for adventure.

“I’ve agreed to try to break the record for going around the world in a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat),” said Williams.

RIBs are most commonly used a rescue vessels and military boats.

“We’ve got a lot of money to raise by the end of this year. If we get the correct amount of money, we’ll be setting sail in spring 2015.”

After conquering ice and land, mastering the world’s oceans would complete an impressive hat-trick for Williams.