THE trick is to keep breathing. That Isla Short has been able to propel herself high into the stratosphere of elite cross-country mountain biking while struggling to get enough oxygen into her lungs serves as a monument to her commitment to her chosen sport.

The 24-year-old had become so frustrated with dealing with undiagnosed breathing difficulties over the past seven or eight years that she couldn’t draw up the energy to even vent on social media where she is often to be found providing articulate and insightful updates on her career and lifestyle.

Finally, however, the airways are clear again. A meeting with a sympathetic surgeon paved the way for throat surgery in March and the early signs are that it has been a success, freeing her from both the physical discomfort and the mental anguish of not knowing just what the problem had been.

She will put that new-found sense of liberation to the test in the coming weeks when she enters into a frenetic conclusion to a truncated season. Following on from this week’s World Cup in the Czech Republic, she forms part of the British Cycling team competing in the World Championships, with the European Championships and World Marathon Championships to follow.

“I had the operation which was the end result of an accumulation of seven or eight years of pretty bad breathing issues and a lot of other weird symptoms,” revealed the Peebles-based rider.

“So, getting that done felt like light at the end of a very long tunnel. I’ve had a few races now and I’m feeling a lot better so the operation appears to have worked.

“I like sharing my lifestyle on social media, but the breathing issue has taken up so much personal energy over the years that I haven’t even been public about it. It’s been exhausting. And to have someone finally listen to me and diagnose me has changed my racing totally.

“Before I had the operation, I didn’t realise how much I had normalised my inability to breathe properly. It took me eight weeks to recover and after that I realised even day to day how much better things were. It’s massive in terms of improving my quality of life.”

This has been a year like no other for many athletes with the spread of the pandemic leading to the postponement of many competitions.

Short, a self-confessed homebird, is glad to be out racing again but admits a year spent in familiar surroundings has allowed her to return to basics.

“I love winning which is why I enter these competitions, but I was fine in lockdown just riding my bike,” she added.

“It’s the most important thing when it comes to me feeling happy. I love being outside and the adventure of being out all day in the hills. And no matter the weather, you always get home and there are never any regrets. You know you’ve always had a really productive and enjoyable day.

“I never lost my motivation to train. In some ways it was the only thing keeping me sane. And you could just focus on yourself and your own progress and not worry about others as you weren’t racing against them.

“Some people get to the end of the season and don’t touch their bike for ages. If my coach told me to take a week off, I would just ride my bike more.”

It is not just the R number that has risen during this coronavirus crisis. Tempers have peaked too as the world adjusts in different ways to a new way of living. Elite athletes, exempt from quarantine regulations after returning from competing in countries on the Government’s list, have been a soft target for social media snipers and Short could not resist a recent pop.

“People were saying this was a privilege and that is something I was a bit upset with,” added Short. “I’ve worked really hard to make this my job so it’s not a privilege, it’s earned. I don’t like calling people out on social media but I was a bit frustrated.

“I’m lucky that I love my job. But it’s what I’m paid to do so I have to be able to do it. And it’s the same with support staff, the massage people, the coaches and the rest. They need to work too. So I get a bit annoyed when people share opinions on things they don’t really know anything about.”

“All of us on the team know we might not be racing this week or next week if someone tests positive.”