This International Women's Day meet Abbz, an inspirational and up and coming sportswoman in the British Superbike racing world
Abbz is an inspirational young woman who can teach us all a thing or two this International Women’s Day. She is focussed and resilient, breaking the bias and isn’t really scared of anything!
Annabel ‘Abbz’ Thomas is an 18 year old student at Tresham College who, at the weekend, races for the SymCirrus Kawasaki racing team in the British Superbike Championship, Junior Super Sport Class.
Abbz grew up around bikes with her father Steffan running and working in motorcycle racing. She said: “It has been my father’s job ever since I was a baby so it was just normal to be un the paddock. It was funny as Dad always had superbikes and TT bikes around the house all the time, and we didn’t even bat an eyelid.”
Abbz’s first memory of sitting on a motorbike is that of her dad’s Yamaha R1. She admits it was pretty cool but had no interest in bikes till she was 9 years old and took part in her first race, the British mini bike series at Whilton Mill, Daventry, on a Junior SM 140. She said “I remember being a little nervous. I nearly flipped it [the bike] at the start and almost took out a Marshall. But I got myself back together and picked as many as I could off before the flag and came home second. I was hooked!
“As I’ve gained more experience, I’ve definitely settled down. You have to. You need to relax, breath and focus. Things can get to you if you are having a bad time but you’ve just got to break free and focus.”
Abbz has been racing ever since and received a grant from the Mick and Sheila White fund back in 2018 which provided the funds to pay for her race entry fees for the year. The aim of the fund is to support young sporting individuals (including potential Olympians and Paralympians) who live in the county of Northamptonshire.
However, whilst racing at Thruxton Race Grounds in 2019, Abbz was involved in in a head-on 140 mph collision. The accident left Abbz with several facial injuries including ripping her lip off and suffering several broken bones including her cheek bone, eye socket, behind her eye and nose. She underwent a six hour operation to save her eye and replace the majority of the left side of her face with titanium. She said: “I don’t remember the accident much at all, I just remember losing the front of the bike. Then I woke in hospital and the left side of my face was mainly titanium! I remember crying when my phone wouldn’t recognise me. It was a difficult time and seems silly now but it just made me more determined to get back. My racing kept me focussed to be back as soon as possible, not just racing but at school and with my friends too.”
Abbz’s Dad Steffan said: “It’s funny as I have struggled more after the incident than I thought I would. I’ve had a long career in racing and have lost friends along the way and seen some lives change in a heartbeat. We were watching the incident in real time in the pits as it happened. I thought I’d lost her and I was crushed. Amazingly she got up and walked to the ambulance after they stabilised her. When I went into the trauma room and saw her, I wept my eyes out. I just wanted to hug her and make everything ok. ”
Just five weeks after the crash, Abbz returned to the track. She said: “I still remember the fight with everyone when I said I would race again at Assen, 5 weeks after the crash. I had to go through some pretty tough tests to satisfy the medical staff at Southampton University hospital and the British Superbike organisers. I was advised not to take part and whilst my parents supported me, my dad especially really tried to talk me out of it. But I did it and not only finished both races but scored two strong top ten finishes!”
Abbz’s Dad Steffan said: “Her resilience and determination coming back was inspiration to me. I didn’t agree with her coming back so soon but I would not stop her, just support. When she came back and did so well, I was the proudest dad in the world. I do have a moment now and then if she crashes but I try not to show it. It doesn’t help her anyway. ”
Abbz still has a ruptured tear duct which causes the water to stay in her tear duct when she blinks and she requires another operation due to scar tissue overgrowing and collapsing in her nose, causing her breathing difficulties. Her goal is now to try to be Britain’s first female champion. She said: “My goal is simply to be the best I can be; to win races, try to make a career for myself and push myself to be better. ”
Abbz’s Dad Steffan added: “My hopes for Annabel are purely that she has great life. She has the opportunity here to perhaps have a different kind of life to many people. To do what she loves doing for a living, particularly sport. I hope that she can achieve everything she wants to do because u know she has it in her to do so.”
Talking about being a female in a male dominated sport, Abbz has a message to any girl looking at getting involved in any form of racing. She said: “Just go for it! It is a male dominated sport but it doesn’t meant that girls aren’t doing it and doing it very well too. A few of us are Junior British champions and race winners now, and I for one have only been encouraged to do what I love doing, racing and always pushing forward.
"Whether I am racing against a boy or girl, I don't see a difference, I just want to beat them.
"Competing at top level in a sport, traditionally seen as a male doiminated one is a fantastic example of the fact that opportunities should be open to all and based on merit, and merit alone."
Whilst Abbz doesn’t have a racing hero as such, she grew up watching Valentino Rossi and Cal Cruthlow with her dad. She said: “As I started racing, I concentrated on myself. I look to some of my friends in the paddock as you really see them work and fight for what they achieve. They’re great friends and we will often all go for track walks, have a laugh and help each other out with lines, braking markers and so on. ”
To follow Abbz’s racing journey visit her facebook page: Abbz Thomas Racing.
To find out more about the grants we offer at Northamptonshire Community Foundation, click here.