Olympic cyclist Georgia Baker has passed the toughest test of her life.
The Perth 22-year-old emerged healthy and relieved from a three-hour operation to fix an abnormal heart-rate.
Coming just a couple of years after losing her father Patrick to a heart attack, the scare swiftly took precedence over Baker’s elite cycling career.
“It has put a hold onto things I wanted to do but at least now I can move on and start looking forward to my next goals,” Baker said.
“When I was having the operation I obviously found it hard not to think of Dad during that time but I felt I was doing the right thing.
“I felt sad and uncomfortable but more relieved that I was getting it fixed and would not have to feel that again.”
A triple world champion as a junior, Baker forced her way into last year’s Olympic track team following stunning victories in the National Road Series and Oceania track championships.
But after a high-speed crash derailed Australia’s team pursuit campaign in Rio, Baker returned to the road and was riding with the Orica-Scott team when her heart problem surfaced.
“We went to London for the women’s tour there and on the first stage I started getting horrible pains in my chest.
“My heart-rate was elevating and I had no control over it. We weren’t even actually racing, it was just the controlled start so we weren’t going hard but my heart-rate was through the roof and I knew it should not be like that.”
“I’d had a similar thing in Tasmania when I was motor-pacing with (coach) Matt Gilmore so I thought it was just a tight muscle across my chest and there was nothing much wrong.
“But in the end I thought you cannot muck around with this so I stopped and pulled out.”
Baker underwent further tests in Europe before the Australian chief medical officer advised returning to Australia.
“He said given the history with my dad, he did not want to leave any stone unturned because we still did not know what was wrong and I couldn’t ride my bike.”
After further testing in Adelaide and Melbourne, the former Perth, Scotch and Launceston College student was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia.
“I had an over-active nerve around my heart which makes it beat a lot faster randomly and I have no control over that.
“Even going from sitting down to standing up my heart-rate could increase to 130-140 beats per minute.
“It’s not uncommon but given it was happening every day and was getting worse, if I wanted to continue riding my bike and just being physically active I would need an operation.
" It was something I was born with and is hereditary. There is a high chance Dad had what I had but I’ve been told it’s not life-threatening so I don’t think he would have passed away from it but there may be some correlation.”
Cardiologist Prash Sanders performed the operation at Adelaide’s Wakefield Hospital on Monday.
“They had to burn parts of the nerve with a laser to fix it and I was awake throughout that. It was very painful.
“They did a really good job and are 95 per cent sure they got everything and if it did come back it would be really mild.
“I’m just glad they figured out what was going on because it’s been going on since June so I’m really happy it’s over and done with.”
Baker will take a week to recover before returning to training and is confident she can return to the sport’s highest level.
Oceania track championships in Cambridge, New Zealand, in November, the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next April and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo represent her goals.
“This has not put a stop on anything. If anything, it has made it a lot better because I won’t have to worry about it any more. Tokyo is definitely within reach, and so is Gold Coast – that’s my next goal.
“The last couple of years have been a real roller-coaster but I feel there’s been more downs than ups. I’m just glad to get this out of the way and I’m sure everything will turn around with my riding.
“After the Olympics it was pretty hard. I had not really dealt with the loss of my dad very well. When he passed away I had just two weeks home then was back into trying to make the Olympics.
“I had to face the fact that Dad was not around any more and that was hard to come to terms with but I’m making progress and now hopefully I’m onto positive things.
“I feel the worst has happened and I can only move forward so I’m looking forward to the next few years riding my bike.”