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Back on track for Thales female bobsledding engineer

Maddison Illsley

One of our Thales in the UK employees, who was selected in 2022 to compete as part of the Great Britain Women’s Bobsleigh squad, has looked back on her first year of competition while managing her career as a professional engineer.

Former degree-apprentice, professional systems engineer, and now a Great Britain Women’s Bobsleigh Squad member. Welcome to the remarkable world of Maddison Illsley.

Her debut into the tough winter sport was all the more memorable when she and pilot Nikki McSweeney achieved a wider podium finish at their first competitive race together at an international event in Lillehammer, Norway last year.

Now back at her role as a systems engineer in change management, Maddison is balancing her day job with her bobsled and fitness training, thanks to a hybrid working scheme with Thales that allows her to combine the two.

Maddison said: “It’s been an amazing time for me and I remain incredibly grateful to Thales and the senior engineering team at Crawley for allowing me to continue to develop my professional career, alongside my bobsledding journey.”

“My early competitive races were all about nerves. Lillehammer was an overwhelming experience, competing against other international teams in front of crowds.

“To get a podium finish in my first event was unexpected if I’m honest. Wearing my helmet allows me to zone out a little bit from the noise and crowd, and focus on what I need to do. Our first run was pretty good, but we both knew we could do better.

“We gave it absolutely everything for the second run and I just remember the pilot (Nikki) whacking my helmet with joy at the finish line as she was the first to see the clock.

 “For the majority of the season I was training and racing with my bobsleigh partner, Adele Nicoll; working so closely together really allows us to perfect our timing and be better as a team. 

“My takeaway from the first year is that I went from absolute nerves, to looking forward to races by the end of the season.”

Now back at Crawley, Maddison’s diary is split between her engineering role in Sussex and two days a week at her bobsleigh training facility in Bath.

She said: “It’s a commitment and I have to handle my diary very carefully – right down to travel, diet, training and recovery. It takes commitment on both sides to make this work, but I really do feel very fortunate to be in this position.

A former degree-apprentice, Maddison’s five years with Thales has included working at Crawley and Glasgow, working on programmes such as the Royal Navy’s next generation Type 31 warship and optronics technology for the highly-advanced Astute submarine.

She added: “It does take a lot of self-discipline to do this, but I never thought I would be in this position and ultimately, I have the full support of my line manager and engineering leaders.

Asked if she is treated any differently now, Maddison says: “When I’m here at Crawley, I’m an engineer working among some very talented professionals. I consider myself an engineer who just absolutely loves sport and the thrill of competition. People don’t treat me any differently.

“A few people at the gym know what I do and have asked about the sport, but that’s all.

“I have the support of my family and Thales, and I’m firmly focused on my career and pre-season training.

“If I had any advice to any aspiring female engineers, it would be just do it – go for what you want and strive for your dreams. I have never worked so hard to get the results I wanted in my apprenticeship and degree, but it’s put me in this incredible position right now.”