An article from the Paisley Daily Express - Tues 17 Feb 2009
AN inspirational pensioner who will go down in history as one of Scotland’s greatest cyclists is being honoured at an exhibition in her home town.
The amazing achievements of world-beater Rita Jones Montgomery are featured in a display of photographs, newspaper cuttings, cycling jerseys, medals and trophies.
But pride of place goes to the beautiful bicycle which carried Rita to famous victories over the world’s fastest cyclists at prestigious championship races in the rugged Austrian Tyrol.
Heritage volunteers at Johnstone History Museum, where the exhibition is being staged, are gearing up for a massive influx of visitors as the town pays tribute to the woman regarded as its most famous sporting heroine.
Road-racer Rita’s lung-bursting accomplishments in a career spanning five decades and thousands of miles include two World Veterans Championship gold medals and eight Scottish Best All-Rounder titles – a record which still stands to the present day.
Many of her fans believe she was good enough to have competed in the Olympic Games but a brave decision – when she was at the peak of her powers – to look after her sick mother meant the Johnstone Jet had to put her cycling career on hold for several years.
It was only after she married fellow cycling enthusiast John Montgomery that she decided to saddle up for top-class cycling again.
Together with her new husband, she entered the World Veterans Championship in the Austrian Tyrol in 1980 – and no-one was more surprised than Rita when she won the coveted title over a gruelling distance of 46 kilometres.
She was aged 49 at the time and the success – which she repeated in 1983 – was well worth waiting for.
Not to be outdone, John won a bronze medal in the men’s race.
Nine years later, Rita produced another fantastic result when she won a gold medal at the Russian Championships in St Petersburg – defeating the cream of Eastern Europe’s fittest and fastest race cyclists in the process.
John made it a husband-and-wife double by taking first place in the men’s race.
Attending the opening of the exhibition and admiring her cycling souvenirs and memorabilia from through the years, Rita looked back nostalgically all the way back to that day, in 1942, when she joined Johnstone Wheelers cycling club as a little girl aged just 12.
The club’s hut in Miller Street was just a few revs of a bicycle wheel across the road from her home in Broomward Drive. There she came under the wing of cycling legend and founder member Walter ‘Wattie’ Buchanan, who ran a photographer’s business in Johnstone before emigrating to New Zealand, where he passed away a few years ago.
Rita went on to win scores of championship titles over distances, including 50 and 100 miles.
Memories of those triumphs are enshrined in the medal-filled cabinets at the museum.
But being a champion speed cyclist has had more than its fair share of ups and downs.
On one occasion, Rita ran into a ginger tomcat while on a training spin along Paisley Road West in Glasgow and crashed off her bike.
While her severe head injuries were being patched up, the needle snapped and lodged in Rita’s scalp, forcing her to remain in hospital for four days so it could be extracted safely.
On another occasion, she crashed into a horse, which was pulling a milk cart, in Paisley.
According to local legend, the horse – which made a full recovery – was knocked out cold by the force of the collision.
Rita doesn’t remember too much about the incident because she was feeling pretty groggy herself after having been catapulted over the handlebars on to the hard road.
Among those who came to her assistance was a local minister in his dog collar, black shirt and suit.
Rita looked so bad after the crash that, when the ambulance crew arrived and saw the minister, they mistook him for a priest who had been summoned to administer the last rites because she was so badly injured.
Her sportswomanship came to the fore one day, more than 50 years ago, when Rita sacrificed her chance of winning a major race in Ayrshire after stopping to help another woman cyclist who had crashed into the back of a vehicle during the competition and was badly injured.
Today, 67 years on, Rita – now in her late 70s – still cycles regularly with John on the country roads and the bike path near her beloved Johnstone, where she still lives.
She still looks as fit and trim as she did all those years ago when she was winning cycling titles on the world stage.
When asked if she will ever give up cycling, the proud Johnstone Wheeler has a straightforward answer: “I’ll keep going till they wheel me away!”
Judging from her youthful appearance, that won’t be for a while yet.
‘Rita Jones – A Johnstone Lass Born and Bred’ can be seen at Johnstone History Museum, within the Morrisons supermarket, Napier Street, Johnstone, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10.30am to 4pm. Admission is free.