Coming Into Professional Sport Later In Life

The life of a professional athlete can sound glamorous, almost romantic. Jetting setting around the world, not having to turn up to the corporate office, being your own boss in some respects. As it becomes a more accepted norm to do sport as a profession, and as more funding comes into sport, we are seeing a rise in women, leaving the corporate world and following passions in sport, or even finding at a later point in life that they have a talent for sport, and the work and dedication needed.

For some, it was finding sport in Covid, others perhaps after having a family and looking to get back in to being fit and active. For others it was just finding that after several years in the Corporate world, they had a chance to give sport a focus full time, and didn’t want to say… what if?

This is the case for Parcours athlete Maddy Nutt. A financial analyst for a world renowned investment bank Goldmans Sachs in London, Maddy now spends her days on her bike on the gravel scene around the World. Quite a transition from the office to the open road, but an experience and path she wouldn’t change. Maddy talks about the challenges coming into sport later in life, the imposter syndrome, but the skills she believes she gained from gaining her degree and corporate experience first. But probably the key message is…it’s never too late.


Coming to professional sport later in life

It's safe to say that five years ago, I am not sure I would have pictured myself as a professional athlete and ten years ago, I most definitely wouldn't have pictured myself as a professional cyclist, given I was yet to get a bike! Sport has always been a key focus in my life, and something I have been hugely enthusiastic about, but has only become my career over the last two years. As a teenager I took up volleyball after watching it at the London 2012 Olympics and was keen to pursue this at as high a level as I could (albeit a little restricted by my height)! I played at a national level and for my University, but was never good enough to compete internationally, despite my enthusiasm. 

After volleyball, I picked up running and eventually triathlon, which quickly became just cycling, as I found a huge passion for exploring on my bike. I loved to get on my bike and ride for hours to new places (and cafes) and this quickly became exploring off-road, as well as on tarmac. Six years after buying my first second hand road bike, and I am now riding and racing gravel more or less full-time, and I cannot imagine anything I'd rather be doing more.

There is definitely an element of imposter syndrome that comes with pursuing sport professionally later in life. With others around you having committed their life to the sport, it often feels hard to identify as a professional athlete and see yourself on the same level as those who have always lived and breathed cycling. The hardest thing for me has been the transition from an 'amateur' athlete to a 'professional' athlete and seeing my identity as this. I went from racing on a domestic unpaid amateur cycling team to racing internationally for sponsors as a privateer between the 2022 and 2023 seasons, and I found this a huge step up. From racing UK gravel events and a handful of international races, to committing to a calendar of the world's most prestigious gravel events, the shift in the level of my racing was quite significant. With this came the need to raise the level of my racing, as well as a change in my identity as a keen amateur/elite athlete to a professional. 

There has been a huge amount that I have had to learn in a very short period of time, as I have made this step up. From nutrition to bike mechanics and tyre pressure. It has been a steep learning curve and I feel like I am a student of the sport, and cannot imagine reaching a point where I am no longer learning. This curve is definitely steeper when you step up to a high level in sport, later in life, but I have found great enjoyment in the process of learning and progressing as an athlete. For me, an evening after a hard day's training researching new recipes for better race fuelling or planning my travel for the season ahead is enjoyable, and has become a part of my lifestyle. 

One benefit to coming to sport at this level later in life is that I have had a chance to pursue other things and explore other careers, and so feel I don't have many 'what if's' surrounding pursuing a different path. This background means that I have a degree I can always fall back on, as well as work experience in a more typical office job and career path. I also believe that it means that there is more longevity in my career as an athlete, as this is a path I have chosen given other options, and so I am motivated to build a long-lasting career. There are also skills I gained whilst studying at university and in my short finance career that benefit me as a professional athlete, particularly skills that I have needed as a privateer athlete. 

Although potentially an unusual and unexpected career pivot from finance, pursuing gravel cycling as a career is definitely a decision that I have never looked back on. Pursuing professional sport later in life definitely has its hurdles and challenges, but I wouldn't want it any other way and hope that this is a career I can make sustainable and continue to build for years to come.


For 2024 Maddy has a full race schedule that will take her all over the world – all over the UK, as well as Europe, the USA, Mexico and Kenya. We can’t wait to support and follow Maddy in the 2024 season.