This Girl Can: Laura and Para-Cycling

Laura in her Para-cycling gear!

In August 2016 I took up the sport of para-cycling. I was born with a visual impairment, but I never see my disability as a barrier. I focus on my abilities to enjoy and succeed in life.

At junior school I wasn’t allowed to take part in P.E. or after school activities because of “health and safety.” I missed out on P.E. classes, after school activities and being part of school teams because I couldn’t do some sports such as Netball. I would occasionally do some running and maybe join in with school sports day, but with difficulty. It was only when I started secondary school that the whole world of disability in sport was introduced to me.

I tried Athletics, Swimming, Goalball, Horse Riding, Trampolining and even a spot of VI (visually impaired) Football! It was great to get involved with P.E. lessons and learn about fitness and well-being. Further down the line I also had the opportunity to attend training days and camps in my chosen sports.

I was quickly encouraged by P.E. coaches and British Blind Sport to develop my skills, which eventually lead to me representing Great Britain in Athletics and Goalball, taking me to Europe and America.

So how did I get from those sports to Para-cycling? After moving away from other sports, I took up dressage. But in early 2014 I unexpectedly lost my horse to ill health. Going from being so active to nothing was very tough; not only was I lost without my horse Chloe but I had lost sport. At least that’s how it felt at the time. However, I was determined that in time I’d find something new and exciting.

In June 2016 I stumbled across a website by British Cycling for their talent ID programme Track2Tokyo. Initially I was a little put off because of my age! But they replied ‘age is just a number in cycling’ so I applied. Keen to get started and improve my fitness I did my research, joined my local gym and contacted Derby Arena. If you want something in life you have to go get it!

I can honestly say my first Para-cycling track experience was everything I had expected. Although I had been using cycling shoes with cleats at spin classes, I was a little nervous about using them straight away on my first tandem ride. But I just went for it! Being a newbie at the session, I also didn’t expect to be doing some of the track skills that other riders were doing. As they say, start as you mean to go on!

The best moment of my journey so far was competing at this year’s HSBC British National Track Championships in Manchester. When I started cycling six months ago, never did I imagine to be racing in front of crowds and against Rio, London and Commonwealth medalists. An incredible experience!

They say ‘team work makes a dream work’ and when riding a tandem this certainly applies. Thank you to Emily who has continued to pilot me through the journey.

British Cycling continue to actively encourage more women of all ages and abilities to get involved with cycling. Through the support from Sport England they offer monthly disability hub sessions across the country to allow those with a disability to try cycling, learn new skills and develop in a safe environment. The coaches are great and love what they do.

So ladies, don’t knock cycling until you’ve tried it! It’s a fantastic way to keep fit and feel great. As with any sport, you don’t have to want to become the next Paralympian standing on the podium, you can enjoy it at your own leisure. And bikes can be adapted to meet your individual needs.

For me personally, I cannot begin to describe the buzz you get from cycling at incredible speeds! Freedom…

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