Losing my hair has made me a winner: Brave cycling champ, 23, steps on to the podium without her wig after unexpected gold medal
Joanna Rowsell has alopecia areata – a condition where the immune system attacks the hair folliclesIt's spurred me on to be even more focused, she says

When cycling world champion Joanna Rowsell stepped onto the podium in the Olympic Velodrome on Saturday, she had every reason to be thrilled with her achievement.

For not only had she just clinched golds in the individual pursuit and Women's Team pursuit, she did it while coping with the hair-loss disorder alopecia areata.

Joanna, 23, has suffered from the condition since she was 10.

Joanna Rowsell

Joanna Rowsell

Acceptance: Joanna has had alopecia areata since she was 10. She currently only has a few patches of hair on her scalp and decided to opt for the occasional wig when she turned 20

Alopecia occurs when a person's immune system becomes confused and attacks the body's hair follicles. This causes the hair to fall out leaving bald patches that can eventually spread across the entire head. Eyebrows and eyelashes can also be affected.

While a third of those affected see regrowth within six months, some may never regain their hair. The unpredictability and obvious nature of the disorder can cause enormous distress.

Joanna has lost and regained her hair three times over the past 13 years. However, she thinks the condition has merely served to drive her on in life.

'It's a bit unpredictable, but I think I've been quite accepting of it,' she told Sky Sports.

'I've always been very determined and ambitious and if anything it might've spurred me on to be even more focused.'

Record-breakers: Joanna with Danielle King (left) and Laura Trott (centre) following their win on Friday

Record-breakers: Joanna on the podium without a wig with Danielle King (left) and Laura Trott (centre) following their impressive win on Friday

Determination: Joanna Rowsell of Great Britain cycles her way to victory in the Women's Individual Pursuit at the Olympic Velodrome on Saturday

Determination: Joanna cycles her way to victory in the Women's Individual Pursuit at the Olympic Velodrome on Saturday

The determined cyclist from Sutton in
Surrey has won an impressive cabinet full of medals since she came
across the sport by chance when she was 15.

'When British Cycling's talent scouts came to carry out testing on the
school playing field I thought I may as well go and see what it was all
about,' she recalls on her website joannarowsell.com.

'As it turns out this decision changed my life completely!'

Joanna was snapped up by the talent team and in 2005 she won the Junior Women′s National 2k Individual Pursuit title.

She followed up with golds in the Team Pursuit at the World Championships in 2008 and 2009, a silver in 2010 and gold in the European Track Championships in 2011.

Now just months away from the Olympics, Joanna was part of the Team pursuit trio who won gold at the UCI World Cup with a record-breaking time of 3 minutes 18.148 seconds.

She then had her own win in the individual pursuit against former world champion Alison
Shanks from New Zealand, despite undergoing no training for the event.

And when she mounted the podium she decided not to put on her favourite brunette wig – although this may have been due more to practicalities.

Relaxed: Joanna (pictured with a wig left) has been pictured with her head both covered and uncovered

Relaxed: Joanna, left, pictured with a wig, but she doesn't always get time to put one up before the winners' photographs are taken

She told SkySports she started looking at wigs after she lost her hair a third time at the age of 20.

'Sometimes I've worn one on the podium because I think all girls like to look nice and feel pretty, especially when you're going to get your photo taken and the cameras are on you.

'But I don't always get time to put it on because often we have the ceremony five minutes after the race.'

And although Joanna didn't take up cycling to become an 'inspirational figure' she added: 'I do like to think if other girls saw me and
if that gave them more confidence to go out and do what they want to do,
that would make me happy.'

For further information on alopecia visit Alopecia UK's website