Learning to ride a bicycle is a challenge that everyone faces at some point. As a result of my CP this is one challenge that took me a number of years to master. This was not an easy journey for me as my balance is all over the shop. Trust me managing to stand on one leg for even 20 seconds is a major achievement in my book. Therefore even attempting to complete an activity on two wheels is a recipe for disaster. Initially I took on the stabilisers-how hard could it be-there were 4 wheels so plenty of surface area. I could see how much the rest of my family loved getting out on their bikes so I definitely wanted to join in too. I loved my first bike-just the epitome of fashion and cool-bright pink with sparkly cheerleader Pom poms coming out of the handlebars. The problem that I faced with cycling besides wobbling from side to side was having to master this in my splints-they were just not ideal at offering me the flexibility to cycle.
When learning to cycle on two wheels without the stabilisers I have vivid memories of cycling countless lengths of our garden with Dad running up and down alongside me. Dad would continually try to reassure me by saying that if I fell on the grass it wouldn’t hurt. Trust me I got the bruises to prove that this was not the case-I would fall off and the bike would just fall straight on top of me, not such a soft landing when the handlebar comes crashing into your thigh with force (even if it is disguised with a Pom Pom-still not fun). I am not saying that learning to cycle is an easy task for anyone but the problem for me was definitely the frequency of these crash landings.
At the time I really did not cope well with the frustrations of not keeping up with my friends. All of them already on two wheels and my brother who had already been flying along for years. I used to get very angry and upset that I was still falling off and would have many a strop, not sure how my family put up with me. I just didn’t understand why it was so much harder for me than everyone else. I have now come to realise that I am extremely fortunate to have such a mild form of cerebral palsy that I am still able to get out on a bike even if it took me a bit longer to master. I know that I am extremely lucky to be able to have the ability to do these activities as I know many others have more severe conditions. I hope this shows that despite my setbacks my constant determination to keep going (and keep falling off) meant that I got there in the end.
I vividly remember one specific victory moment for me and cycling. I finally won the battle against the lack of stabilisers on the Tow Path. On this occasion I was actually on my brother’s bike (I don’t remember what happened to the pom poms on this outing). I remember cycling the furthest I had ever managed on my own on two wheels. The sense of achievement was massive. It made all of the tears and tantrums up to that point worth it as I was final winning my battle.
The issue is that since learning to ride on two wheels I have had multiple crashes which just prove to me that it is something I will have to keep working on. However despite all these falls I still pick myself up and carry on cycling. Here are a few of my notable falls over the past few years:
One sunny Saturday I was out with my family cycling the North Downs Way when we came across an especially large and muddy puddle (therefore coined the Puddle of Doom).. Please bear in mind that this was at the end of a long day cycling and I was wearing a lovely pale pink t-shirt. The dry path alongside this huge puddle was very narrow and bumpy. Due to my CP I struggle to stay in a straight line and wobble all over the place to try to stay upright. Anyway on this occasion, I let everyone else go ahead of me through the giant puddle and they were all successful. Then it was my turn to take on the Puddle of Doom…I got halfway along (right to the deepest part)… And then splat-down I go-I managed to end up with a very distinctive pattern across my chest-half the lovely pale pink and half the delightful black, soggy mud. Of course it was just at this point that my lovely family decided to stop off at a café so I could show off my great new look. That is something I have definitely learnt to deal with over the years-just embrace the mud, scrapes and bruises from my falls.
Another occasion that comes to mind is on another family bike day out and up a particularly steep and long hill which I was struggling on. Normally when faced with a hill I am fiercely determined to keep going all the way to the top without walking, however on this occasion I was flagging. Dad decided this was the perfect time to offer me a Turbo Boost-this involved cycling alongside me and pushing my bike by the saddle whilst both he and I continued to cycle. Needless to say this genius idea did not go as planned. I fell, my bike fell on top of me, Dad on top of that and lastly his bike on the top of this dramatic pile up! Thankfully no major injuries were suffered and I then scrambled out from the stack and got back on my bike, determined to keep going but I can confirm the Turbo Boost has it yet been repeated.
The last notable dismount happened when I was cycling to the river. The route onto the tow path involves a very narrow path between a barb wire fence on one side and a high wooden fence on the other. Along the wooden fence is a mass of nettles, so a really promising combination of circumstances. Whilst cycling down this tricky route I was trying desperately hard to avoid the barbed wire and as a result ended up crashing hard into the mass of nettles and wooden fence. I think the shock of this fall was the worst part of it as I was completely wiped out by it. I was then encouraged to eventually get back on my bike and continue cycling. I ended up with some lovely rashes and impressive bruises from that fall. Worse still in the following week my shoulder was in agony, so much so that I ended up getting it x-rayed. Thankfully nothing was broken but it definitely shook me up and reminded me how I do not get on well with narrow paths.
Cycling in London
When I moved to London, Mum suggested I find a back route to cycle to work. I was immediately told by Dad that it was just not going to happen and I agree. Although I will not be defeated by much the idea of cycling in London absolutely terrified me and I will stay firmly on my own two feet. This is because of the crazy busy roads, narrow cycle lanes, my wobbling like jelly all over the road and the fact that when on a bike I forget that traffic lights apply! My cycling in London stays firmly in the gym where I take on spinning classes. These are a challenge in their own right as due to my CP and my knees going inward I have bashed my knees into the bike at high speeds on countless occasions. Not clever and not fun! Another element of spinning is when I manage to let my foot slip off the pedal and get that smashing directly into the centre of my shin! Ah well it is all worth it for the fun and freedom of pedalling away!
So I know this is a long one but I hope this portrays a bit of what it is like to do one of these everyday activities with CP. Despite all the dramas and scrapes I have got myself into I love cycling and am so grateful that I persevered with it as nothing beats the sense of achievement of conquering a big hill or the freedom of the wind in my hair. I hope this shows that despite the obstacles we are faced with, enough perseverance and determination will let you succeed at something you may not have thought possible.