Katie shares her inspirational cycling journey and her tips on staying safe whilst riding.
There’s times in my life when I’ve lost perspective of things, of how lucky I am to have found cycling as a hobby, to always have my bike to ride and to always have the freedom it brings. So when life has got on top of me, the one thing that brings me back to life and will always bring a smile to my face, is my bike.
I should really say bicycles plural as I have about four or five if you count the parts that sit in the garage at my family home. A BMX, a track bike, a hybrid and then my carbon road bike. The latter is the bike I built bit by bit, year by year, gradually improving it as I went, it has purple handle bar tape and my epilepsy stickers on the rear wheel instead of a brand sticker.
I know I’m lucky to feel like my epilepsy is controlled enough to ride. I underwent brain surgery half my life ago now, that changed the condition for me beyond recognition. But I still don’t know when my next seizure will occur, it could be a week away, it could be a year away, it could even be a decade away, I just don’t know. So I always have two pieces of cycling kit I’d never get on my bike without, the first is my medical ID band, it details who I am, my epilepsy medication and has my emergency contact information on it, it’s the safety net for me to feel confident riding alone. The second is more obvious to anyone riding a bike,my helmet.
The startling thing about my cycling, is that it’s not nearly as dangerous as people might think. I’ve only ever had one seizure on my bike when I went head first into a ditch. Compared to the seizures I’ve had on the street, the cuts and bruises I experienced were almost non existent. As I had my helmet on I had no facial injuries and I didn’t have the usual headache that I would normally have if I had collapsed without being on my bike.
Usefully for me, I always collapse to my left because my epilepsy originates on the right side of my brain, so if I’m riding on a British road, I’d fall left out of the way of traffic. But to be honest, if you were riding in a group, as long as someone knew about the condition in your team, you’re likely to be safe. Using bike lanes off the road, can be another great way to feel safer too. Ultimately, do what you can to keep yourself as safe as someone without the condition would too. Since I started my blog ‘The Diary of an Epileptic Ultra Cyclist’, over 3 years ago now, the response has been amazing to it. The readership figures were higher than I could have ever imagined and it’s allowed me to really talk about the condition, first aid, but most crucially for me, the stigma.
I realise that road cycling may not be viable for every person with epilepsy. But when you understand that there are a number of athletes that have epilepsy, who have become champions in their sport, European champions, World champions and Olympians then you’ll know, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Velodrome riding is arguably the UK’s most successful sport at world level within the last decade and there’s no reason why anyone with epilepsy, wouldn’t be able to ride a track bike. The speed it brings is such a rush and for friends, fantastic freedom for them too, when they didn’t feel like they could ride at all because of their epilepsy. In fact they could, they just needed to be introduced to a new discipline.
Riding a bike is about what you make of it, if you take the right precautions then you can do anything really with it. In my case, it was to cycle 3000 miles across America, in my four lady team, within the 9 day RAAM race time limit. I’m still the youngest British female to complete the race across all categories, and the first Scot. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of, but most of all because by doing it I was able to show the kind of things that people with epilepsy were able to do and my cycling ambitions haven’t finished yet. Nobody can tell you, you’re not allowed to ride a bike. It’s the one thing that can’t be taken away from me and I love riding, not only because it’s my own kind of meditation, but because it just makes me happy, whatever discipline I’m riding in.
As for me as the Ultra-cyclist with epilepsy; well I’m not done yet and I hope to break more records to raise vital funds and awareness for my condition.