Meet the track rider who ditched British Cycling for Barbados and her parrot Nigel

“It started with my mother and me,” says Amber Joseph, the only Barbadian rider present at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines track center at the World Track Championships. “She was my bank. She was my driver, mechanic, manager, and she didn’t even know the difference between the front wheel and the rear wheel.

Joseph stands out as she warms up in France’s national velodrome. The 22-year-old is dressed in a bright yellow kit, sitting high in the saddle as she twirls her legs. To his right, his mother sits on a plastic chair.

In less than two years, this same velodrome will host the track cycling events of the Paris Olympics. If Joseph qualifies for the Games, she will be the first female cyclist to represent Barbados at the Olympics and the first Barbadian cyclist to compete in two decades.

“Barry Forde, right?” she says when I remind her of that stat. “He’s actually the guy who took me on my bike ride in Barbados.”

“My mum knew Barry’s wife and just talked to them. Barry took me to the gym when I was about 12, lifting 120kg and doing squats. It was crazy.

“Then he put me on a bike and it was amazing. It was like I was supposed to be on a bike.

Amber Joseph on the Handsling bike in Barbados kit 2022

(Image credit: SWPix)

At the age of 13, Joseph and her mother rode their poles in Barbados and moved to Reading, England, where she quickly progressed through British Cycling’s track program, joining the Olympic development team.

In 2016, after three years with Great Britain, she was invited to represent her hometown of Barbados at the Pan American Championships. An opportunity, Joseph said, she just couldn’t turn down.

“I decided to give my UCI license back to Barbados,” says the Los Angeles L39ion rider, “and got the silver in the omnium.”

I start to ask her if she regrets leaving British Cycling, but before I can finish the question, Joseph replies an abrupt ‘no’.

“Barbados has always been my home. It always has been. If I had to choose between England and Barbados… Barbados anytime. Not just because it’s paradise.

“I find that with British Cycling, from the outside and from what I’ve heard, it’s a bit more difficult than just cycling,” she adds. “Now I can literally choose any event I want to do.”

When it comes to money, however, it’s far from easy. Four years ago, Joseph began receiving funds from the Barbados Olympic Association, which relieved him and his family of some of the financial burden. “But it’s nothing compared to what surrounds me,” she quickly clarifies, watching the runners warm up in the center of the track.

“To come here, to stay in the big hotels, it was going to cost me and my mum £4,000. We found our own hotel, flew in from England, from Reading, and stayed in a hotel for £300, just because it suited my budget better.

In a year, she explains, it’s easy to spend over £30,000 traveling to competitions with her support team. “It’s like flights and hotels,” she adds. “I pay for all my own wheels, gear, helmet. I have to do all this myself. »

A parrot called Nigel

When she’s not riding a bike, Joseph rides a horse. “That’s where my family comes from, their background is tied to horses,” she says.

“I have a lot of animals at home. I have like four ducks.

Dogs? I ask, assuming I misheard through the booming dance music.

“No, the ducks. And we have four dogs.

Joseph then starts talking about the pets she keeps at her home in Reading, and the list gets more surreal with each pet. “We have two sheep, like 21 chicks, like five chickens. We have a parrot. I have two cats.”

What is the parrot’s name? I ask.

“Nigel,” she said, with a deep laugh. “My cats are called Dorothy and Dave. And then one of our dogs, my dog, my child, is called Betsy. And then we have one called Potato. She clasps her hands together in a small sphere shape. “She looked like a potato when she was a puppy.”

At this point, Joseph splits his sides, laughing. “I am a big animal person. I like animals more than people,” she says. “No violation.”

Luckily for her, she also enjoys competition. Today, at the Track World Championships, Joseph is preparing to take part in the omnium, his favorite event. “I can’t do the Madison for obvious reasons,” she said. “There is only one me.”

Amber Joseph competing for Barbados in 2021 track cycling

(Image credit: SWPix)

In order to earn points for Olympic qualification, Joseph will travel next year to Indonesia, Egypt and Canada for the Track World Cups. She will then return to the World Championships, the last before the Games, to compete in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Everything is going in the right direction,” she says. If 2022 had been an Olympic year, she would have qualified through the individual ranking.

“It will not be an easy road for me, because it is difficult enough for a single nation [riders],” she says. Joseph looks at the track, the same track that will be used for Paris 2024, then turns around with a determined look. His tone changes abruptly.

“I’ll do it,” she said. “I’m going to do it. I’m very determined on it. And I believe it. I think once you believe in something, it’s achievable.

“I just have to work hard and do what I know I am capable of, and it will be an absolute honor to write history, once again, for Barbados and make them proud.”

Earnest L. Veasey