04/08/2012 16:44 BST | Updated 06/08/2012 08:19 BST

Joanna Rowsell: Having Alopecia Helped Drive Me To Greatness

As she completed a lap of honour after winning Olympic gold, cyclist Joanna Rowsell pulled off her helmet to proudly reveal her bald head.

Having lived with the hair loss condition alopecia since childhood, the 23-year-old has not flinched from speaking about her condition.

Indeed she says her hair loss has helped drive her on to greatness.

And her win in the women's cycling team pursuit at the velodrome could not have come at a better time - it fell on International Alopecia Day which seeks to raise awareness of the condition.

She said a fan contacted her on Twitter this morning to tell her about the special day: "I thought 'wow, that's a bit spooky that our Olympic final is the same day'."

Joanna Rowsell says having alopecia helped drive her to greatness

She added: "I hope I can be an inspiration to other girls with the condition and help raise awareness of it.

"When I was younger I used to focus really hard on my school work.

"I wasn't really confident on going out and doing the usual teenage things. I didn't have much confidence in my appearance and I became very, very focused on my studies.

"But when cycling came along that was another thing for me to focus on and suddenly it didn't matter what I looked like, it was about how I performed on the bike and that's what I was judged on. That was great.

"When I started winning that was the best feeling ever. I wasn't going to stop; I wasn't going to let it hold me back.

"You only live once, so go for it."

She said she had received messages of support from the public which helped on her way to victory.

"It was amazing because I never really had that response before from the public," she added.

"I've never really seen myself as an inspiration or anything like that.

"It was a bit overwhelming at first and I was a bit shocked, because I don't want to be known as the girl with alopecia; I don't want that to be what defines me.

"But I've realised now that I've got a responsibility as such. It's always going to be a part of me, so I may as well embrace it and hopefully inspire other girls."

Rowsell, from Cheam, Surrey, was diagnosed with the condition, which causes loss of hair from the head or body, at the age of ten.

She first lost an eyebrow then within months began losing clumps of her auburn hair. Soon she began to lose eyelashes.

Despite the efforts of numerous doctors, she was told the condition was incurable.

Recalling her childhood, she said: "I remember crying one night to my parents and asking what was happening."

While in every day life she often wears a wig, she proudly competes bald beneath her helmet and has become a poster girl for the condition.

Along with team mates Laura Trott and Dani King, Rowsell smashed three world records en route to the gold medal.

Speaking after her podium appearance, she said: "You never want to be complacent but we had had a great day and I felt we had more to give coming into the final race.

"The atmosphere was tremendous and the crowd helped drive us on."

Alopecia occurs when the immune system becomes confused and attacks the body's hair follicles.

This causes the hair to fall out leaving bald patches that can eventually spread across the entire head.