Top cyclist lives life in the fast lane

January 08, 2023 - 07:56
Nguyễn Thị Thật is currently the best cyclist in Việt Nam, and is still hunting for more titles.


Nguyễn Thị Thật celebrates her win in the women's road race event in the 31st SEA Games last May. VNA/VNS Photo

Thanh Hà

The year ended happily for Nguyễn Thị Thật, who was named one of the top 10 athletes of the year for the third time, following successes in 2014 and 2019.

Her hard working over these past 12 months brought her remarkable results. She was the national champion and winner at the regional biennial Games and the Asian championship.

Thật is currently the best cyclist in Việt Nam, and is still hunting for more titles, saying "my life is the way forward".

14 years of cycling

Thật was born in 1993 in a family of three sisters in An Giang Province.

When Thật was an eighth grader, she was scouted to the provincial cycling team as coach Ngô Quốc Tiến saw great potential in a student who was great at running.

"He asked me to cycle several rounds at school and tested my legs before picking me to practise in Long Xuyên District. But my family disagreed," Thật recalled.

"Coach Tiến had to ask district officials to come to my home to persuade my parents. I found cycling interesting and wanted to know more about it. Finally, I was allowed to join the team," she said.

Nguyễn Thị Thật is the best cyclist in Việt Nam now. She won Asian championship titles in 2018 and 2022. VNA/VNS Photo

From a girl familiar with books and pens that helped her parents with farming, Thật switched to fitness exercises and became friends with the bicycle.

"I have been cycling for more than 14 years. During that period, I asked myself to learn as much as possible and train as hard as possible because I know that both individually and nationally Việt Nam is still far behind its international competitors," Thật said.

"Through training and competing, I have given up a lot for my career. There have been successes and failures on the way, but in each stage I have endured, I have learned some great things and earnt valuable memories."

Thật showed her talent at the first tournament she took part in 2009, a year after she began cycling. At the 'Return to Điện Biên Phủ' event, she was awarded a White Jersey for the best young rider at the age of 15.

From then, she dominated all tournaments for young cyclists.

Two years later, she became No 1 in the national championship and was one of the leading cyclists in Asia.

In 2013, she participated in the first Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Myanmar and secured a bronze. A year later, she grabbed a silver in the Asian Games, and finished fifth in the Asian championship when she was 21.

In 2017, Thật triumphed at the SEA Games and defended her title two years later.

The 25-year-old collected remarkable achievement with two SEA Games gold medals, one Asian Games silver medal and one Asian championship gold medal in 2018. It was the first-ever continental title for a Vietnamese athlete.

"I was over the moon at that time. Before me, no Vietnamese had reached that top spot. I believe that happy feeling will last forever because I am the first and the only one to date who has won an Asian gold for our country. What's a huge milestone." she said.

European dream

By the end of that year, Thật became the first Vietnamese to compete for a European professional club as she signed a one-year contract with Belgian Lotto-Soudal Ladies.

Nguyễn Thị Thật (centre) takes part in a tournament in Euro when she wears the jersey of the Belgian Lotto-Soudal Ladies club. Photo of Nguyễn Thị Thật

Under the new jersey, she took bronze at the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana Féminas in Spain and golds in the Tour of Zhoushan Island I in China and GP de Fourmies in France in 2019.

She was ranked No 33 in the International Cycling Union's women's table, the highest-ever place for an Asian cyclist.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her contract, and Thật had to return home.

However, the unexpected return and the pandemic gave Thật plenty of time for family, a happiness that she had rarely tasted in a decade in which she could visit family for no more than 10 days per year.

“Many things happened during that year that helped me find my spiritual values. I was closer to my parents and sisters, caring for and loving them. These were strong forces for me to work harder," Thật said.

Despite difficulties, Thật practised hard to maintain her performance, which helped her dominate the national championships, as she looked towards international competitions when the pandemic was under control.

Nguyễn Thị Thật (left) competes in the 31st SEA Games where she secured two gold medals in individual and team road race events last May. VNA/VNS Photo

And she made it with gold from the Asian championship in March in Tajikistan and a double title at the 31st SEA Games in May on home soil.

“I still hope to have another chance to compete in Europe again. I have never given up my dream and keep working hard for this target," said Thật.

Long road ahead

Cycling is a tough sport for women. It was the main reason her family disagreed with letting her practise the sport at the start. More than 10 girls who were recruited to the Long Xuyên cycling team at the same time as Thật all quit. They could not stand the hardship.

Meanwhile, injuries were a big problem.

It was a serious injury that blocked Thật's younger sister Nguyễn Thị Thà from cycling. Thà suffered a horrible fall during a national championship in 2014 and had surgery to remove a kidney and liver. She retired aged 18.

Asian champion Nguyễn Thị Thật will defend her title in the 32nd SEA Games in May in Cambodia, and target the Asian Games title in 2023. VNA/VNS Photo

But Thật has overcome everything thrown at her and proved her talent and fulfilled her potential.

"Talent is just part of success. A bigger part is passion, determination and hard work. Without these elements, I could not be successful," she said.

"I am on the right path that fate gave me. I am a simple and optimistic person. I just focus on the track ahead whenever I am on the bike. I'm just thinking about the challenges ahead. My career is still long." VNS