Determination pays off for Sheffield cycling hopeful

Millie Cass
Millie Cass

When Millie Cass was diagnosed as a youngster with a progressive condition affecting her muscles and nerves, her parents were understandably worried about her future prospects.

But now Millie, aged 15, from Whirlow, is dispelling any fears in style - having set her sights on competing as a Paralympic cyclist.

The teenager has hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy, also known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, and took up cycling when it became increasingly difficult for her to walk to Silverdale School in Bents Green, where she is a Year 10 pupil.

She quickly showed promise in the sport, and has now been selected for the Great Britain Paracycling Youth Development Squad, which will see her training once a month with the full adult squad.

Millie even brushed shoulders with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prime Minister David Cameron, following an invite to watch Stage 1 of the Tour de France in Harrogate. She also recently competed at the UK School Games in Manchester, achieving personal bests in five disciplines.

Her father, David Cass, said he and Millie’s mother Ann Woodhead were both ‘thrilled’ with their daughter’s success.

“There’s nothing I’d rather see her doing than pursuing her ambitions in this way,” said solicitor David, 49.

“It’s the first rung on the ladder to the Paralympics. Her aim is Tokyo in 2020, as she was too young for Rio.”

David said he and primary school teacher Ann, 47, realised Millie needed medical attention when she only began walking aged two. A DNA test at Sheffield Children’s Hospital led to a diagnosis a year later.

Millie’s condition causes gradual deterioration of the motor and sensory nerves, leading to wasting in the muscles of the foot, lower leg, hand and forearm.

It emerged she had inherited the illness from David’s genes. He was later diagnosed too, but is affected less severely than Millie, who has a twin brother, Cameron.

“Nobody really knows how severely an individual will be affected,” said David.

“But she is indomitable. She never gives up and will try everything. We’ve encouraged her from an early age not to limit herself and to be physically active. It allows her to overcome her difficulties.”

A typical week for Millie involves training every day - a mixture of outdoor circuit riding, road training and turbo training at Forge Valley’s facilities in Stannington - fitted in around work for her GCSEs.

Millie names her cycling hero as double Olympic gold medallist Laura Trott.

“She has a great attitude and always has a smile on her face. One day I hope to emulate her success,” she said.