'I knew, even before I got to the telephone, that Andy must have been involved in a crash'
Superbike rider Andy Reid from Carrickfergus was poised for national success before an accident put his dreams on hold. Now, his fiance Chloe Smyth tells Stephanie Bell how it feels to have a partner in such a dangerous sport
It is the phone call which the partner of every motorbike racer dreads and Chloe Smyth is just grateful that new finance Andy Reid got away with a wrist injury when he recently crashed during a British Superbike Championship practice session.
While elated that Andy wasn't seriously injured, Chloe can't help feeling gutted for him that the accident put him out of this year's championships which he and his team were on course to win.
Such is the life of emotional highs and lows which women like Chloe choose to live with as they support their partner's careers in one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
It is the kind of support which means the world to the racers who know that living with the type of risks they have to take as professional riders is not easy.
Andy and Chloe have known each other from childhood and know what it is like to live in the fast lane - with all the highs and lows, excitement and fear that it brings.
The couple recently sealed their love with an engagement ring, although they don't plan to marry for another two years.
They currently live together in their home town of Carrickfergus, where both are focused on establishing their careers before they settle down.
Chloe (22) is a support worker for people with learning disabilities as well as being Andy's biggest fan supporting him trackside at all of his races.
The couple first met aged 11 on their first day at Belfast High School and became childhood sweethearts. They went their separate ways shortly after but always remained close friends, getting back together again in their late teens.
Chloe lived with Andy (22) through some of the ups and downs of his early career in racing until he left the sport after a bad injury - and then made a sensational return two years ago.
He has made such a big impression that he was recently named Northern Ireland Role Model of the Year in the 2016 Heroes of Youth Awards.
Last year Andy made a name for himself on the track as the hard-charging rookie and this year signed for the Quattro Plant Cool Kawasaki team along with British Superbike riders Luke Mossey and Filip Backlund.
The team had won the first two races in the Dickies British Supersport Championship and were on course to finish on top when disaster struck - and Andy came off his bike during a practice session last month.
He was left out of action nursing a broken scaphoid, ending his and his team's dream of claiming the 2016 Superbike and Supersport Championships.
To Andy it is a huge disappointment but he accepts that it goes with the territory.
For Chloe it was a relief he was not more seriously hurt, although, she too regrets the impact on his career.
She was on a trip to London when Andy crashed and says her heart skipped a beat when the phone rang.
Chloe says: "I have to see what is going on. I could never miss a race. If for some reason I can't be there I have to watch it live on TV. I don't know why, but especially the first two legs (of the course) are the worst for me.
"Thankfully my employer understands. They know if I don't get to watch Andy race it will affect my ability to do my job as it would be on the back of my mind. Andy is the person I care about and my first priority.
"I have an app on my phone which allows me to watch the practice sessions, but the day Andy came off his bike I was in London and everyone had come off the track because of some drizzle. Andy went back out again and I didn't know so wasn't watching and, of course, got the dreaded phone call."
Chloe's instinct was something had gone badly wrong.
"I just knew before I answered the phone that something had happened and I knew Andy must have been injured," she says.
"My first priority was to get in touch with him and make sure he was definitely okay."
And her support isn't taken for granted by Andy who appreciates how difficult it can be for Chloe.
He says: "It is hard to find someone who can deal with the stresses and pressures of my job. Knowing your boyfriend is doing such a dangerous thing everyday is a lot of pressure, but Chloe is super supportive. She gets as excited as I do sometimes - but, obviously there is an element of anxiety."
For Andy the thrill he gets from reaching top speeds outweighs any fears.
"People die every day and for me it is no different and that is exactly how I see it. Living my life the way I do - to me the danger element is no different to someone getting into a car and going to work in the morning who doesn't know what is around the corner," he says.
Andy was naturally chuffed and more than a little surprised to be named Northern Ireland Role Model of the Year in the 2016 Heroes of Youth Awards.
The fact that the public vote for the winners made it even more special for him. He says: "It feels like a compliment, but I'm a motorbike racer and I'm not that different from anyone else apart from the fact that I ride motorbikes.
"It's good to be a role model and if I can inspire young people then that's a good thing."
Since crashing he's had three operations on his wrist and will be out of action for some weeks.
This would have been his big chance to make his mark with his new team and, naturally, he is gutted to be out.
"It's tough - but it's one of those things you have to deal with," he adds. "You have to take the rough with the smooth and pick yourself up and get on with it.
"We had won the last two races and were leading the championship and then had just dropped into second place and had it all to play for. But there is always next year and I'll just have to focus now on getting everything sorted for 2017."
Andy has had a tough few years. He lost his beloved dad, Adrian, in 2012 - shortly after suffering a devastating bike crash which nearly ended his career.
Growing up in Jordanstown, his mum, Paula and his late father sacrificed everything so that he could pursue his passion for riding bikes even remortgaging their home to fund his dream and allow him to travel to championships throughout England.
While it was Andy's childhood passion for bikes which revealed his speed credentials in motocross, the horrific crash when riding a superbike in Spain, aged 18, was nearly the end of the road for his riding ambitions.
"I was living in Manchester at the time and training hard with a personal trainer, six days a week, twice a day to get really fit," he says. "I flew out to Spain in February and it was my second day on the track at Cartagena. It had been raining all morning and no-one was on the track. After three laps I crashed and snapped my femur in half - it was my worst injury to date."
Andy was hospitalised in Spain where the break had to be repaired with surgical screws. The broken leg meant Andy's riding career seemed to be over, and for just under two years he struggled with adjusting to a completely new life. But there was worse to come, when his dad Adrian passed away just months later.
"I felt like my world was over," he says. "The biking world is like a family, it's a lifestyle and I had known nothing else. I wasn't in the best mental shape. Even just knowing what to do with myself was a challenge. It was a really, really tough time for me and my family."
A keen artist, Andy retrained as a tattooist but a call out of the blue soon had him back on his bike.
A guy he knew who owned a team which was competing at the British Championship had a rider injured and asked Andy to step in to ride his bike at Brands Hatch.
Andy knew he would have to build up his career again, but it didn't take long before he was attracting attention for all the right reasons.
"I was racing at Oulton Park in Liverpool and I couldn't wait to get back on the bike again. I won, beating the nearest contender by 27 seconds, which is phenomenal in circuit racing - usually it is half a second which separates first and second placed riders. I had been away for two years, so to come back and start winning competitions was amazing."
His success continued in Holland where he gave the world-class Dutch riders a run for their money, just losing out on first place in the British Championship. His performance didn't go unnoticed and he was approached by Milwaukee Tools with a two-year contract deal.
"It was a really positive start to my first year back. It was crazy - I was a professional motorcyclist. When I was a child I dreamed about being good enough to do this for a living and now I do," he says.
"I had gone from lying on the sofa thinking I was never going to race again to being a winner."
With Chloe by his side he is in pole position to go continue to make his mark.
Chloe says: "I'm very proud of him. Even through the down parts, even when he has a bad race he tries his hardest and takes the rough with the smooth.
"It keeps him happy and life would certainly be a lot duller without it and as anxious as I get sometimes, I think it will be a sad day when he does decide he doesn't want to race anymore."