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I met Alison at Blackhall Community Centre where she works and I can say that I’ve never met someone more energetic and cheerful! By her own admission though, this wasn’t always the case. Alison grew up in the Blackhall area and one of her earliest memories is taking the bus with her Dad and then coming home riding a trike; she was pedalling and he was hauling her up Blackhall bank with a belt around her trike frame! Alison remembers playing out with friends, calling for each other on bikes, coming home from the chippy with a bag of chips hanging from her handlebars.
As is often the way though, life got in the way of that early cycling passion and she was busy raising her daughters, working and then dealing with a divorce. In 2017 she realised that something had to change “I was fat and miserable and I’d had enough”. Alison says that the trigger for change was when she realised “I weighed as much as my Dad”. Her friend Heather helped, “Heather was always out riding, and I just didn’t get it, she was constantly on her bike. One day, she turned around and said, just come on a little ride with me. So, I thought why not, what have I got to lose?”
That was the start of a re-discovered love affair with cycling. Alison joined a gym and bought herself a new bike and found she was beginning to be capable of cycling further and further distances. She trained as a cycle group leader and helped to lead a local women’s cycle group. When funding for that group dried up, she negotiated to have ownership of the bikes transferred directly from the council to the cycle group, they became a constituted group and are pedalling from strength to strength.
The bikes are getting serviced this week ready for the new season and soon Cycle East Durham will be out riding again at 9.30am on Saturday mornings. The group rides usually take in a café for coffee and cake and chat and it has been so successful that some men have asked to join. Alison tells them they can come along but only if they understand that the women set the pace and there’s no place for ego or racing, this group is about community, gaining confidence on bikes and looking out for each other.
We chatted about how important it is for women to feel enabled to do the activity they love. Alison often gets asked whether she thinks it’s safe for women to cycle alone. Although she leads the group and also cycles with Breeze Durham and Cycle North East, sometimes she loves to get out on her own. She has a busy job and is always around people and helping people. She’s absolutely passionate about her work but sometimes there’s nothing better than getting on her bike and having some time to herself. Alison is all about empowering the women who ride with Cycle East Durham and she puts on cycle maintenance classes to ensure that women are confident enough not to panic if their chain falls off and not to rely on someone else to ensure their bikes are always road worthy.
Alison and I spoke at length about how transformational discovering a love of physical activity has been. “Not only do I feel good, look better, feel better, I’ve had a whole life style change. I eat well. Rather than waking at 3.15am every night with insomnia I sleep for 8 hours a night. I’m confident in who I am and comfortable with myself”. We agreed how important it is for women to realise that it’s OK to take time for themselves. So many of us are pulled in different direction with work, partners and kids and exercise gets pushed out of the picture or we feel guilty for the time we take to do it. Sometimes the essential thing is to say that actually ‘I am important’ and doing some form of physical activity and putting ourselves first is the best thing we can do for those around us!
We talked about Alison’s dream to cycle to Amsterdam and mused about what it would be like to cycle alone around the world…it might just be a dream at the moment but I think if anyone can then Alison can….