Although my journey on a road bike started just one year ago, I suppose my cycling story goes back to my teenage years. Back then I spent all my time in the pool! I trained up to 8 times a week (three mornings before school) and reached a respectable county / regional level. Exams took their toll, and sadly I gave up, but I guess my passion for competition and sport never died.
In my 20s I was always fairly active and I became a qualified fitness instructor in my spare time. In my 30s I had two lovely children, and following a bad skiing accident I started using static bikes to rehabilitate. In fact I did the spin classes so much, I became the instructor, something which I did for around 10 years. As soon as I gave up I slipped and broke the other ankle badly. By then I was sick of sweaty studios so I turned to a battered old bike to help gain the flexion and strength in my ankle.
Family life was busy. My kids were both competitive swimmers which meant a lot of ferrying backwards and forwards, and and my own fitness took a backwards step.
By the end of December 2017 I was pretty exhausted with life. I had a massive argument with my then 19 year old daughter. That same night Freya, a wonderful sporty daughter of some friends of ours suffered from a sudden cardiac issue and very sadly died on 31 December 2017. It was the second teenage girl we were acquainted with to die from an undiagnosed heart condition. Rosie from my son's school, and rowing club, had also sadly lost her life on the river a couple of years before - you might see tributes to her when you walk past Boaters in Kingston. It was enough to make we want to do something. it was time to re-evaluate my life. I decided to train for a triathlon, something I had always wanted to do, and raise some money for the Charity CRY - Cardiac Risk in the Young
I wasn't really sure where to start other than just start swimming, cycling and running. I started swimming at Hampton Open Air Pool, and loaded the C25K app on my phone and logged onto Strava. I also gave up drinking, which seemed to help give me a clarity of thought, and a determination that I had lost somewhere along the way. By April, I had a great tan from swimming in the pool, and I completed my first Parkrun in years. I was invited on my first group ride to Windsor by a good friend of mine who cycles with the Kingston Rude Mechanicals (KRMCC). It was a baptism of fire! I spend most of the time clinging onto the back of the group but the coffee and cake at the Cinnamon Cafe in Windsor were enough to make me want to do it again. I was however far to worried about keeping up to venture out with a group for some time. I need to practice a bit more, and also learn to ride using cleats first.
Things went quite well with my training goals and by the end of May I was swimming laps around Shepperton Lake, improving my Parkrun times and cycling pretty confidently in cleats, with just the one fall to my name. I started to look out for other groups I could ride with without embarrassing myself again. I found a ride with Sigma Sports, and was surprised at how easy their speed groups looked, so I signed up. I was a few kilometers into the ride, when it twigged that the ride speeds were in miles per hour, rather than the kilometers per hour I had been used to! I spent another ride clinging to the back to the group, and finally ended up at Cafe Giro exhausted. I really wanted to go home and hide, but I didn't want to appear rude and I was desperate to learn more about cycling, so I stayed and ended up sitting with Sarah La Hausse and Julie Chasin. They were so lovely to me, and Sarah suggested I join BellaVelo. It sounded just the group I was looking for to help me along my journey.
I joined up and I haven't looked back since. I completed my Brighton Triathlon in September and I was delighted to raise over £5,500 - which buys CRY a new defibrillator. Since January 2018, I have ridden over 6,500km and I have lost nearly 3 stone (it beats Slimming World as you get to eat plenty of cake!).
I have gone on to become a ride leader, something I am so proud of you wouldn't believe, but more importantly than that I have found a great bunch of women. I think my mental health is so much better - something Charlie Holly is reminding us of, with her Mental Health Event this month (May) - Mental Health Awareness Month. I have learnt new skills and have even completed a course of roadside first aid. I might not be the fastest rider, and I still hate those those last three little hills coming into Esher, but I love the camaraderie, and I also love the fact that everyone is so supportive, no matter where you are in your journey. I am trying to repay the more experienced riders, for their time and patience with me, by following them and promoting them in women's cycling. As I am writing Jasmijn Muller is cycling around the Netherlands in an un-supported race, so I am following her on Twitter, and Helen Bridgeman and Helen Sharp are totally inspiring on their Tour de France journey with the InternationElles - please do follow them and share their story too.
There are lots of people I would like to thank for helping me along my journey. You might not have realised it but that little friendly chat or gesture has made a difference. Robin Brennan for inviting me to my first group ride to Windsor, and Kevin Walters and the rest of KRMCC for their patience with me on that day. Nick at Cinnamon Cafe for providing such a great atmosphere, I had to return. Sarah la Hausse for asking me to join her for a coffee at Giro and inviting me to join BellaVelo. Belinda, Alice and Alison and the other ride leaders for looking after me on those early rides. Charlie Holly for the smiles and motivation. All the Bellas (you are too many to mention) for their wonderful friendship. My friend Tara for her unique friendship and her fierce but friendly competition. My Parkrun WhatsApp running group - somewhat jokingly called Cutting Edge Athletes. My sister Abbie who joins me, and keeps me motivated, to swim around muddy lakes! And finally but most importantly my patient husband Richard who is just starting his own cycling journey. He has a new road bike, and is cycling for Prostate Cancer following a diagnosis this summer, and successful surgery (please do talk to me if you want any information on the subject).
Just one last note about the work that the CRY charity does. They offer a free heart screening service for anyone aged 14-35 so please do book a check up for yourself and family. Check out their Test My Heart website for details of dates and locations.