From being told she'd never walk again, we hear the inspirational story of Fiona Fraser, who is back on her bike and loving every single pedal stroke.
Most of us will be familiar with the extolled benefits of cycling for our physical and mental health. But these messages are usually directed towards people for whom cycling is accessible. You get a bike, you jump on it, ride for a bit, the ‘bit’ part usually determined by your current fitness, and over time, you go further and faster, as your fitness, skills and confidence improve.
However not everyone can just ‘jump on a bike’. Living with certain disabilities or long-term health conditions can make cycling feel more out of reach. A good dose of determination and optimism may be required to even contemplate the idea of cycling, when being mobile is an on-going challenge. We met one woman, whose experience getting back into cycling whilst recovering from a spinal injury we think epitomises the definition of determination.
Fiona Fraser was told she would never walk again after an accident in 2016 left her paralysed from the chest down. She spent five months in a specialist spinal unit, and her rehabilitation remains on-going, although she went from being initially immobile and unable to brush her teeth, to walking out of the unit on two sticks. By 2019 she had built up her physical strength and fitness through exercise and started to think about cycling. But her balance was unsteady, and she could not lift her leg high enough to get on a typical bike frame. Thankfully, the solution for this was relatively straightforward, a step-through model proved workable, and Fiona could start cycling again.
At first Fiona cycled a very short distance, around one mile, ensuring she had enough energy for the return journey. With each bike ride she progressed a little more, utilising local cycle paths and accompanied by her husband. It was the arrival of the COVID pandemic, with its lockdowns and empty roads, that facilitated further opportunities to progress her cycling. She began cycling with a friend, building up to 15-20 miles, encountering hillier terrain and expanding her adventures. The step-through frame was retired for a hybrid bike, better suited to the local hills and longer distances.
In 2021 Fiona began attending Breeze rides. Led by volunteers trained as British Cycling level 1 Ride Leaders, known as Breeze Champions, participants are supported throughout each ride: from the friendly welcome and safety check at the start, to cycling together as a group under the helpful leadership of the volunteers, including the safe navigation through junctions, traffic lights and roundabouts, etc. Breeze rides are categorised into ‘easy-going’, ‘steady’ and ‘challenging’, with the pace adapted to ensure no one is left behind; accommodating any rider, whatever their situation.
Balance and coordination difficulties mean starting and stopping is not easy for Fiona. She also experiences on-going pain, greater muscle fatigue, and has a leg brace to keep her foot in a suitable position. Despite these challenges, she remains committed to cycling without the assistance of a battery on her bike.
Through the support and guidance of Breeze Champions and other participants, she feels included and welcomed on rides, highlighting many benefits: discovering new routes; meeting new people; tips on how to make the most of her bike’s gears; and support and encouragement to progress her cycling. She now uses a road bike and last year completed a cycling challenge event, cycling from Skye Bridge to Inverness Bridge, a distance of 78 miles. This year her plans include Ride the North, the Loch Ness Etape and Etape Caledonia and she is thinking about joining her local cycling club.
From not knowing if she would ever walk again, to taking on challenges any cyclist might consider demanding, Fiona’s advice for anyone contemplating cycling is to “just do it”. For anyone with additional health and/or physical challenges, she highlights the benefits of exercise and recommends following medical advice whilst trusting and listening to your body. She told us the impact cycling has had on her: “I have fallen in love with cycling, I now don’t mind going out when it is cold and raining. I just love the feeling of being out in the fresh air, it helps with pain, and I organise my life to keep my energy for cycling”.
Thanks to Fiona Fraser for speaking to us and sharing her story. Have a cycling story to share? Email: email@example.com
Inspired by Fiona’s experience? Find a Breeze or Guided Ride near you: www.letsride.co.uk/