Blog: “It was so easy to join the ride that I was hooked”

The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) website features a blog post every Friday through the year. It’s Bike Week, and Shona Hudson, 55-years-old, talks to us about how she took up cycling – and shares some useful advice for beginners and those thinking of getting started.

Shona with her cycling friends

I’ve had a hearing loss since childhood, and use two hearing aids. I lipread and generally have to see a person’s face to work out what is being said. I find conversations in groups daunting as I miss a lot of general banter. Like a lot of people with hearing loss, it’s easy to gradually find yourself not taking part in conversations and avoiding social activities. Fortunately, I attended a Hearing Link programme in 2014 where I met other people in a similar situation and this helped me get back out there!

In 2015, I took up Pilates, which was my first step towards getting back into a group activity which is dependent on being able to hear instructions. I discussed my hearing difficulties with the teacher before starting, and she was very supportive.

This led me on to cycling, which I used to do alone but I know this made my family worry. I came across HSBC UK Breeze bike rides for women and joined my first ride with Gabby in Solihull. Again, I shared my hearing difficulties and they made it so easy to join the ride that I was hooked. My main challenge was the coffee and cake afterwards, and I felt lost trying to follow conversations.

I was inspired to become a Breeze Champion myself and set up rides for ladies with hearing loss, where they could not worry about missing out on the social aspect afterwards. I went on a Breeze Champion course and met Heather, who invited me to come along on a Warwickshire Ladies Cycling Club (WLCC) ride.

I found some other deaf ladies through the WLCC group, and am proud to say that we have had our first ride, led by me as a Breeze Champion, and have another one planned. HSBC UK Breeze and British Cycling have been very supportive, letting me go at my own pace but helping me to be a Champion and lead a ride. Also Helena McClure Bowman and other Breeze champions have been a great inspiration providing advice and support.

A friend recently invited me to a track cycling event at Derby Velodrome, and I immediately said yes. I told my husband and he exclaimed you must be crazy and mumbled stuff about no brakes, fixed gears, feet being clipped into pedals and the wall of death! Blimey too late. I started to fret. Would I with my trusty Phonak hearing aids but full dependency on lipreading become a liability on the track?

I had visions of me causing pile ups, so I emailed the venue and here started a wonderful example of openness, helpfulness and commitment to a good customer experience from Phil, the Head Track Cycle Coach. On the day, Simon (the coach) treated me like everyone else but just made sure I had a chance to shout out if I was unsure. I felt like one of the lads!

And I was off… what an adrenalin surge! You have got to try track cycling, it’s amazing. I did not cause a pile up and I am totally addicted, if I lived nearer I would have been back the next day.

My confidence has grown and I recently joined Run Like a Girl in Leamington. I’d never have been able to run a 5k without joining this beginner’s group first. I also used to swim regularly, and have a secret ambition of doing a mini triathlon!

Apart from the health and fitness benefits, I enjoy the feeling of belonging that being active gives me. It helps my confidence, makes me feel better and it’s like I’ve achieved something in life. When I’m cycling or running, I feel absolute pride in being able to do it. Afterwards, I have to admit I still struggle at times to join in the banter but I’m slowly getting there.

There is so much support out there, and social media is great for deaf people as you can communicate more easily. When I’m with people who are deaf aware, it’s magical. I feel it’s hard for people to understand the impact of deafness. There are a lot of assumptions, but most people make an effort and that’s appreciated.

The support of family, friends and other riders and runners is essential. My friend often comes cycling with me and apart from motivating one another, she tells me some of the chat that I have missed. On my first night running with Run Like a Girl, I went alone and had no idea what the group leader was saying. I went to follow a group in front of me, but fortunately the lady next to me stopped me as she spotted that I couldn’t hear. I had been about to join an intermediate 5k group by mistake when I had never run before!

Later in 2017, we have a few longer cycling charity events planned, ranging from 24 to 40 miles. I’d like to continue with Pilates and running, and when I get the time go back to swimming as well. Through our deaf ladies cycling I have found a Deaf Cyclist UK Facebook group, and I’ve been introduced to other Deaf cyclists who are doing a London-Paris ride in June. Some of these cyclists use British Sign Language (BSL), and lipread me as I don’t sign. This has given me a reason to learn some BSL again.

If you’re thinking of trying a new sport, my advice is – don’t put it off. For ladies, there are some very supportive groups out there. I find that others genuinely want to encourage and help you. You need to be open about any challenges you face with the organisers, and be clear about what can help. Remember you are an ambassador too – it is likely that you will meet someone else in the same boat, and inspire them without even realising it. My last piece of advice is that Facebook groups can be very useful to find things out – give it a try!

If you’re thinking of taking up cycling, you can find support, advice and events on the British Cycling website. You can also find free guided rides, routes, buddies and more at www.letsride.co.uk

For more information about Run Like a Girl, based in the West Midlands, visit their website.

Hearing Link is a UK-wide charity for people with hearing loss, their families and friends. Visit the Hearing Link website to find out more.