Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Maria Costello, the record-breaking motorcyclist

'At school, I didn't enjoy competition'
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The Independent Online

Maria Costello, 28, holds the record for the fastest lap by a female motorcycle racer in the Isle of Man TT, and she is also the first woman to finish in the top three of the Manx Grand Prix. She is a spokesperson for Mencap and will feature in its National Road Rally, a 20-hour fundraising event, over the first weekend in July

At 17, I arrived at veterinary- nursing college on crutches, as I'd been knocked off my motorbike and had a broken pelvis, elbow and ribs. The accident had happened in Spratton, the Northamptonshire village where my parents still live. There were a group of us with the same type of motorbike who used to meet up. I was the only girl; the guys were great and all visited me in hospital.

I've been asked to give an assembly at my old school, Spratton Primary; I'll take my motorbike along. When I was there as a pupil, I had no interest in two wheels. I never really enjoyed competition - unlike now. I was very much into animals and horse-riding and having lots of pets. I did have a rabbit called Barry Sheene, but he had been named by my cousin and given to me as a replacement when my own rabbit died. I remember that when we were asked to bring our favourite object in to school for a project, I brought in Barry Sheene.

When I started at the school, I was a bit scared of Mrs Cozzolino, but I kept in touch after I'd left, and, when I was at secondary school and looked after people's pets while they were on holiday, I looked after her dog.

At Guilsborough County School, I used to love cross-country and got chosen to run for the county, but I made sure my times were too slow. I would run the course and then hang back just before the finish to make sure I wasn't picked again. I hated the horrible changing-rooms and the horrible PE kit!

I enjoyed my sciences. Mr Haines was probably my favourite teacher. He took me for Science A and Science B. In one class, there weren't many people I knew and so I used to work very hard. In the other class, I sat with my best friend and my reports used to say, "If Maria didn't laugh so loud..." I've still got a very loud laugh! I'm a Gemini - maybe that's it.

Art was my favourite subject but I needed to earn money, hence the veterinary-nurse idea. I got nine GCSEs but I don't have any A-levels because I went to veterinary-nursing college. First I worked in a practice in Northampton; they sent me to an appalling veterinary college in Birmingham where the tutor taught you human biology but couldn't even tell you what a dog's temperature was. I failed the first exams and then went to the veterinary college in Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire, which is based at the Wood Green Animal Shelter. There, I passed with distinction.

With "VN" after my name, I was able to assist in operations on farm horses, racehorses and birds of prey. I used to castrate cats and do post-mortems. I also used to educate clients about animal care, and run weight-watching classes for cats and dogs.

I started motorbike racing after I had been with some friends to watch a race and they pointed out a girl who raced called Sandra Barnett. I thought, "I could do that!". I learnt how to "get my knee down", that is, to touch the ground with your knee as you go round a corner. I thought that that was all you needed to know. I now know otherwise!

I am one of 177 women who have an Auto Cycle Union road racing licence, compared with 6,154 men. I have been racing for 10 years now, and feel that there are plenty more years in me. But maybe I'll eventually go back to veterinary nursing, somewhere warm like Australia, where the animals are exotic. It needs to be somewhere warm because, with quite a few broken bones and bits of metal in me, I do feel the cold!

jonty@jonathansale.com

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