Being a cycopath (cycling osteopath):
I’m in my third year studying as an osteopath in Leeds and have been cycling for about twice that time now. When I first started out, as my confidence grew, I was pretty fearless. I’d never crashed and I didn’t know anything about how good my tyres were on wet roads or anything like that.
I think ignorance was bliss for me, as it happens, because I just thoroughly enjoyed riding for what it was. Riding in the wet never bothered me, nor did descending, although I have always taken descents quite carefully.
This was the case until a fateful day back in 2008 where I lost all friction on my brakes in a flash flood at the top of a steep descent. Off I flew unable to slow myself down for the best part of 2 kilometers. The thoughts going through my head included “I’m gonna die”, “I’m gonna be leaving here in an ambulance” and “I’m gonna break my arms and legs”. At one point I saw a wall approaching on a bend, screamed and closed my eyes. I made it to the bottom in one piece luckily and managed to come to a stop halfway up the next little climb.
Obviously my survival mechanism took over and forced me to steer my bike even though I felt like I couldn’t move.
So I was pretty put off for a while after that and unfortunately my attitude towards cycling changed quite a lot. As a mother, should I be putting myself at risk in such a way? Could I ever enjoy riding my bike in the same way again knowing that in a split second something could go wrong or I could crash or be hit by a car? I took almost a year off with the occasional fair weather ride thrown in.
The next year I thought, enough is enough, I was going to fight my demons and start training more to build my confidence back up. It worked, I was probably the fittest I’ve ever been on my bike in 2010 and that’s when I even dabbled in a bit of racing (which I was rubbish at so obviously not THAT fit). But more importantly I felt a hell of a lot more confident and was enjoying myself on the bike again.
Fast forward to 2011 cyclo cross season. I decided to give it a go as it seemed like something that would be suited to me, given I like off road running and the bikes in my opinion are easier to handle than a mountain bike (don’t get me started on mountain biking).
The second race I tried, I had my first crash. There was a tricky descent and my brakes were not slowing me down, I ended up flying down, lost control and hit a tree root, which sent me straight over my handlebars. Unfortunately I landed on the only square of concrete in the whole park and bruised and battered myself all over.
It was in my practical lesson the next day, the tutor tried to demonstrate a cardiovascular examination on me which proved difficult as my ribs were too bruised and sore to touch or put the stethoscope on properly. My many grazes and bruises also drew attention,
“you’ll have to think about what’s more important to you”
Words that have haunted me since.
Do I want to jeopardise my career as an osteopath? My hands and my arms are my future. It’s something that always pops into my head when I hit over 25 miles per hour on a descent. I promptly get on my brakes. But, I am still cycling.
I could run. I really enjoy running and it is often what I turn to in the winter to keep myself fit. I can’t help myself though. Deep down, beneath all the anxiety and sense of responsibility is just a raw passion for cycling. There’s something that keeps drawing me to it after every near miss and several episodes of road rash. I will say, “I can’t do it anymore”. But I always do it again.
I have already pledged that 2012 is going to be the first proper season of racing for me and off I will be going to cyclo-cross training sessions which start in a couple of weeks.
What else can I do? I can’t give it up because that would solve nothing. The only option in my mind is to get bloody good at handling my bike and therefore reduce my perceived risk of having an accident. Actually, sod it, I could get struck by lightning so I officially promise to stop moaning and just get on with enjoying riding my bike.
By Amy O’Halloran