#UnsungHeroes – Part 1 with Jess Allen


Fri 5 Jun 2020

During this continued lengthy period of no racing, we’ve taken some time look back at our fundamental love of cycling with our #BackToBasics series. To follow on from this, we’re using the month of June as an opportunity to reflect and remind ourselves of the special, important people that helped our riders become the great professionals they are today. Those people that are often unheard of in background – the #UnsungHeroes!

For part 1, we asked former Australian Criterium champion Jessica Allen who inspired her and helped her reach this level in professional cycling.

Can you name one person that had a large impact on helping you to start your career?
“There are so many people I could name. I’m in the sport of cycling because of my dad and both him and my mum have always supported me since day one. But the person who has made a huge impact on my professional career is Donna Rae-Szalinski.”

What exactly did she do to help you?
“Donna coached me from 2011-2015 and has been a mentor and a second mum to me ever since. Donna has always been there when I’ve had struggles on and off the bike. Her advice has been invaluable and she’s helped me mature as an athlete and a person.

“She believed in me when some others didn’t, and she gave me opportunities to show my strength and my value as a teammate which resulted in me becoming a professional.”

Why was that so important to you in making you who you are today?
“I believe in myself a lot more now and I think I’m mentally stronger, more independent and resilient because of her advice and guidance.”

Do you think you would be as good as you are today without her help?
“I think I might have walked away from the sport without her help.”

Can you name a specific moment/memory that you have of her helping you that stands out?
At the end of 2014 I was losing my love for cycling and contemplating giving up the sport. Donna suggested that I move to Melbourne and take up tandem piloting for a vision impaired cyclist called Jessica Gallagher who had a goal of competing in the 2016 Paralympics on the Velodrome.

“I moved to Melbourne for four months and gave it a crack. Unfortunately, I wasn’t strong enough to be the tandem pilot they wanted, but I am super thankful for that experience as it gave me a lot of purpose and got the fire back into my belly to want to race again.”

Does she still have an impact on your career today?
“Absolutely. Donna is just a phone call away and I always call her when I need her advice. Whenever we’re in the same town we always catch up for a coffee or tea.”

Do you think she realises how much she assisted you in building your career?
“I certainly hope so. I’ve had a lot of highs and lows throughout my career and she has always picked me up from my lows and been a huge part of the highs.”

What traits does she have that inspire you?
“Donna has so many traits that inspire me. She’s proactive, loving, reliable, patient but what I admire most is Donna’s devotion to her family, business and athletes.”

Have she been to watch any of your professional races?
“Donna has been there for all my biggest victories in cycling. She was the Australian coach and team director when I won the Junior World Time Trial Championships in 2011 in Copenhagen, when I won the young riders jersey is Tour of New Zealand in 2011 and the Oceania Elite Road Race in 2014.

“She was also on the sidelines when I won the Australian Criterium Championships in 2017. For all those victories she was one of the first to give me a hug after the finish line.”

Thanks Donna! You are a Hero.

#UnsungHeroes Series:

  • Part 1: Jess Allen
  • Part 2: Alex Edmondson…coming soon!