Monday, April 22

Cycling, Women and becoming an Advocate

Elaine was born in County Meath in 1983! A wife since 2009! A mum since 2015! Elaine was always one of those outdoor kids! Elaine fell in love with the west of Ireland after spending 2 summers in a North Mayo Gaeltacht! All these things led her to choosing to study Outdoor Education in GMIT Castlebar. She enjoyed her time in Castlebar and learned so much about herself and about outdoor education. She also met her husband on the course…My JourneyIn 2005 I started work in Petersburg Outdoor Education and Training Centre (OETC ) and I’ve been there ever since! I enjoy the variety of work the centre gives. I have had lots of opportunity to design and lead new programmes.However, in the past 15 years I have had two diagnoses that were hard to deal with. I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, which scared the life out of me! As someone who works outdoors every day, I was totally unaware of the value of sun protection. Thankfully now 15 years later most people know the importance.I was also diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI). This really rattled me and has taken me years to come to terms with. Unfortunately, there is still very little known about the condition although it has massive effects on women. I lost all my confidence and my drive to do anything. I felt so many times that I wasn’t being listened to and made feel as though I didn’t know my own body. I found a doctor who helped me find my way back to me which included Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).Just as I was finding myself again, I also found cycling and I am now an official advocate for the ‘IT’S NOT A RACE’ campaign.How cycling found me!We planned to get cycling up and running at Petersburg so there were various days out on bikes and training courses. I didn’t love it at first. This was until another local female kindly loaned me her bike and shared her enthusiasm for the sport. I was hooked!Lockdowns came and I discovered all my local backroads! I encouraged other women to come with me. I decided to run a Women on Wheels (WOW) programme in my local area with the support of Petersburg OETC.“Women on Wheels is essentially the Bike for Life programme aimed at beginner women where cyclists are brought through the various skills and techniques involved in cycling. The focus of the programme is on learning, meeting new people with the group cycle a prominent feature. The programme usually lasts between 4 and 10 weeks in length, this can be flexible depending on the group and availability of the ride leader, with a celebratory spin for the group to finish. Depending on group ability this could be anything between 20k – 50/60k (Cycling Ireland).I knew what I felt like to be that person struggling at the back of the group, so I really wanted this never to be the case for anyone on my course. I put a lot of thought into each session to ensure it was varied and everyone had a strong sense of belonging.While running WOW I also began studying a course on coaching midlife women. The course included Menopause & the Menstrual cycle, Training midlife women, Kit with women’s bodies in mind & Nutrition. This opened lots of conversations while out and about on our WOW cycles.Although at 38 years old I am not in “midlife”, but because of my POI diagnosis I have experience of menopause and its effects on female wellbeing. I am passionate about sharing information about menopause with women of all ages. Knowledge is power!My first WOW programme was a huge success, I continue to cycle with women from the group weekly and we have become great friends. We are gathering new women to join us all the time.We are as much about coffee stops and conversation as the kilometres on the Strava! It’s about the friendships & mental wellbeing. If we get a bit fitter and faster that’s a bonus! Cycling side by side on bikes, is a bit like the conversations at the kitchen sink or in the car….you get a lot off your chest without any eye contact! As they say a problem shared is a problem halved.Lasmuigh, June 2022 18Finding my Tribe!The community bikes rides are a fantastic initiative by Cycling Ireland. People can join a ride lead by a local leader or join a solo ride. Each ride you complete brings you closer to a reward and it’s free!I recently completed my 100th ride. I am proud to say that one of my WOW students got to 100 rides the day before me!! Well done, Fiona.The rides are a brilliant motivation to keep going. I fell of the cycling wagon for a while last year and starting the community cycles again helped get the motivation going.In my opinion there is huge value in a women’s cycling group. For me it’s like finding my tribe. A group of people who I can relate to. To be listened to and to listen to others. To be able to offer advice or point someone in the direction of advice whether that be on bike fit or female healthcare etc. A sense of belonging and an understanding of busy lives. Flexibility. Friendship. A space to speak openly & honestly about life. Gaining fitness & confidence. Improved mental health and so so much more.IT’S NOT A RACE*This is a new campaign that “Celebrates the many female cyclists who make up the broad spectrum of women who participate actively in cycling across its many forms. As importantly, it celebrates the many reasons why women cycle. And yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s not always a race”(Cycling Ireland – for more information, click here)I love this campaign. I think there is so much fear for some women around trying something new because they might not be brilliant at it. This campaign encourages women to try for all the other beneficial reasons. While also celebrating those women who are leading the charge in competitive areas of the sport.I think when you read the stories of the advocates you can see that cycling is a sport for everyone. Each of the advocates have different reasons for cycling. Each of them bringing something so important to the table. I am so proud to be part of it. I really have to pinch myself.

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