After battling her body anxieties for years, Alpine Bikes’ team member Rachel shares how cycling gave her a new lease of life… A story we can all take inspiration from!
A question that I get a lot is, ‘why cycling?’ Of all the sports I could have chosen, I opted for this. So why?
I think it’s prudent to start with a bit of background. A year before I started cycling, I was in a dark place. After suffering from an eating disorder from the age of 11, being hospitalised and deprived of all freedom to make my own lifestyle choices, I needed to make a change.
I suppose this is a difficult place to start. Mental illness is a bit of a taboo subject; people tend not to talk about it out of fear of what others may think. I used to be the same. But the number of people suffering from some sort of mental illness is on the rise, and I think it’s time that society stopped brushing it under the carpet. I’m not writing to talk about my illness, but what I would like to say to anyone who is suffering or has suffered from mental illness is don’t give up. One thing that kept me going was HOPE. Hope that things would get better, that I would overcome my illness and that I could finally start to live again.
With that in mind, cycling isn’t really a strange choice at all. The freedom that comes from riding your bike is overwhelming and beautiful. When I am on the bike all that matters is me and those two wheels. It’s an escape. Sometimes I have no direction, no plan, and I just go wherever my fancy takes me. Scotland is a beautiful place, and I’ve seen a lot of my surrounding area simply cycling it and taking it all in. It’s a simple pleasure: an attack on your senses, the smells, the scenery and the sounds. It makes you feel alive. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to feel to unbelievably free and unlimited. No constraints. Cycling gave me that back, and made me realise that I missed living.
Another reason why cycling appealed to me was that I loved sport. Before I was ill, I was always doing something, trying something new… I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie! My passion was cross country running. After a long period away from the sport, missed opportunities and general regret, I just didn’t have the passion that I used to. The desire to pursue it was not there. Then one day, my aunt and uncle – having previously taken up cycling – encouraged me to give it a bash. And I did.
I pulled my dad’s old bike out the garage and went for a cycle. The bike was oversized and the helmet too big for my pea head, but I felt deliriously happy. I had heard people say in the past that the release of happy exercise endorphins was truly addictive… and they were right. I couldn’t get enough! Each new day was a chance to get out and explore, take a new route, climb a new hill and see a new place. There was now a fresh sense of adventure and excitement creeping into my life. The void was beginning to fill; I felt more and more content. What amazed me was the speed at which my fitness increased. I suppose it’s not surprising as in some senses I am an endurance athlete. However, to cycle I had to learn to fuel properly, to listen to my body and to treat it with respect. This was a challenge, but the changes that came with it were positive and encouraging. I began to develop a positive relationship with food again and – whilst I’ll always struggle with the way I look and feel about myself – the more I cycled, the more I wanted to achieve on the bike… and the less my insecurities mattered. Quite simply, I learnt to cope.