Because of her particular impairments, cycling was not an activity Emma had ever considered, until her “super-sporty” colleague and friend Paula proposed that they should ride together in their firm’s annual networking cycling event. In this blog they talk about preparing for the event and their experiences of the day.
Do you fancy coming on a bike ride – I’ll pedal!?
Paula: I enjoy being active. I am curious to test my limits. I am not a great athlete by any stretch of the imagination – far from it. I do however wholeheartedly buy into the mind-set that anything is possible with committed training. Over the years, I have cycled London 2 Paris in 24 hours, completed multiple Ironman Triathlons and taken part in Race Around Ireland.
The other great love of my life is friendship. I cherish my friends. I find their company restorative, life-affirming and joyful. Emma is my friend and my colleague. When this year’s Leigh Day (the law firm I work for) cycle ride was announced I saw an opportunity to invite my colleague Emma into what I assumed was an unexplored part of the world for her – and because I enjoy cycling so much I just assumed she would too!
I searched the internet for adapted bikes and was heartened to see so many different varieties. It was clear to me that the means were available – all I had to do next was check whether the appetite was there. Interestingly this presented me with the most significant challenge: how to ask Emma if she fancied joining me on the ride. It sounds so daft now to read that but it is true. I had no idea if my idea would be well received, or come across as insensitive, neither did I know if my research into adapted bikes would be seen as patronising. The last thing I wanted to do was cause offence.
Emma wrote an excellent blog about disability and awkward conversations. So reassured with what I knew Emma thought about starting the conversation, I decided to park my discomfort and simply asked “Do you fancy coming on a bike ride – I will pedal!?”
Emma: It actually took a while for me to take the idea seriously! The first challenge was practical – how to find a suitable bike. Leigh Day put us in touch with Wheels for Wellbeing, a fantastic charity which works to remove barriers to cycling for disabled people. On our visit to try out the bikes, the link between wheels and wellbeing was very apparent on the faces of the people riding around the hall. There were people with a variety of imapirments and on a variety of bikes. We opted for a side-by-side tricycle (think Two Fat Ladies, but without the motor). For me this had the advantage of proper seats, so no saddle to feel precarious on, and a design that allowed for only one person to pedal.
The second hurdle – increasingly challenging as the day approached – was to sit with my fear of the ride and not chicken out. A corollary of being disabled is that you have to consciously build whatever measure of independence you can achieve, constructing your comfort zone almost brick by brick. So the prospect of abandoning the freedom and safety of (in this case) my car to effectively get on someone else’s bike was daunting. This mostly manifested itself as fear of accident and catastrophic injury, not because I had any doubts about Paula’s skill as a cyclist (she recently cycle-raced round the entire coast of Ireland!) but because we would be at the mercy of other road users without any protective shell. And more fundamentally, as a passenger, I would not be in control.
I look back on it as a day like no other
The day of the ride was blessed by sunny skies and a refreshing breeze. We were joined by our friend and fellow employment lawyer Tom Brown, who took turns with Paula on the 55kg trike. As the rest of the cyclists took off on their longer routes, we turned off onto our tailor-made route, only to discover later that we had done the whole thing backwards. The beauty of the Warwickshire landscape was a revelation, as was the universally kind reaction of all the people we encountered during the ride including all the drivers that got stuck behind us (this has made me reflect on my own habitual impatience behind the wheel!).
Now, after the event and still in one piece, I look back on it as a day like no other – a day of adventure, laughter, camaraderie and experiencing the countryside in a new way (in a car you are never really ‘in’ nature). Most of all, it gave me a new sense of what real inclusion means. Because for me, the best thing about the day was that despite the lengths to which all the people involved had to go to make it possible – from sourcing the bike, planning our route, exerting unfamiliar muscle-groups, heaving the bike over turnstiles and foregoing participation in the main ride – I never felt that they were doing it to be nice to me. While my physical limitations framed the practicalities of the day, my disability didn’t feel anything more than incidental; I was encouraged and facilitated to join the event not as a disabled person but as Emma, and for me that is priceless.
As we return to our day job of representing people facing discrimination and other forms of mistreatment, we both feel that we will often return to the experience of that ride as a kind of touchstone of what equality is really all about.
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