Steadying myself on the bike, I pushed down on the pedal and slowly began to cycle towards the lake a few minutes from my home. My heart was racing as I started to pick up speed – it was the first time I’d been on two wheels in years. Would people think I was too big to ride a bicycle? Would they be amused by the fact I was just wearing jeans and an old T-shirt, not fancy cycling gear? As I pedalled into the country park, I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind. Trundling behind me in a colourful, tent-like trailer attachment was my motivation for getting back on a bike – my little boy, AJ, who was two years old and having the ride of his life.
Six months earlier, AJ had been diagnosed with leukaemia and we’d spent most of those long, worrying months in hospital, or cooped up at home. Now, as the expanse of water opened up before us and I curved around the edge of Shard End Lake in Kingfisher Country Park near Birmingham, my cares seemed far away. As I rode on, I felt calmer and more relaxed than I had done in ages, and I decided that it was exactly what both AJ and I needed.
When we arrived home, AJ was fast asleep in his little trailer, and, though my legs were wobbly, I couldn’t wait for our next ride. Despite taking anti-anxiety medication prescribed by my doctor, I usually found myself dwelling on worries about AJ when I was trying to go to sleep. Tonight, though, I found I settled down much more quickly than usual and had the best night’s sleep since his diagnosis. And that made me feel much stronger for whatever the next day might bring.
I’d joined Slimming World about three months earlier. On the way home from AJ’s eight-week stay in hospital, we’d popped to the local shop. And though my little boy had been undergoing chemotherapy every two hours for weeks, he shot ahead of me, full of energy while I struggled to keep up with him.
I’d been slowly gaining weight since having my daughter, Stevie-Louise, then seven, and later AJ, and that had accelerated as I’d sought comfort in food to cope with his illness. Now at 14st 11½lbs, I was the biggest I’d ever been – and with AJ speeding ahead, I realised I wanted to make a change. AJ’s illness had also made something else clear to me. My little boy had been perfectly healthy until suddenly he wasn’t – none of us were immune to ill health, and I owed it to my kids to take the best care of myself, so that I could be here for them for the longest time possible.
After three months attending Lianne McCalla’s Slimming World group in Birmingham, Food Optimising and losing weight steadily, I’d become aware that lots of the other members were enjoying doing Body Magic, Slimming World’s activity programme. They talked about going to the gym, running and swimming – nothing that interested me – then by chance a children’s cancer charity worker suggested a bike and trailer loan, and it seemed perfect for me. Every day, I cycled around the lake and back home. After two weeks, I spotted a cycle path, so I took it and found it went all the way to the local airport. Now I challenged myself to go a bit further each day, resting for five minutes before riding back home.
While Food Optimising helped me find healthy swaps for the comfort food I’d been eating, cycling gave me a new stress buster.
Within weeks, the aches and pains I used to have in my knees and back had stopped, I was sleeping soundly and I had the motivation to stick to Food Optimising, too. Best of all, AJ loved getting out and it felt like our normality had been restored a little. On the bike, I wasn’t the mum of a little boy battling cancer. I was just a mum taking her little boy for a spin and spending precious time with him.
I began mapping our rides using an app on my phone, and loved tracking my progress, adding a few minutes to my route every day. Away from the noisy traffic, I felt at peace riding around the beautiful lakes, fields and canals of the country park. Those 55 minutes became my time to relax and unwind, letting go of all life’s worries. I no longer needed the anti-anxiety medication my doctor had prescribed, and I was sure it was because of the time I was spending out on my bike.
Not only was cycling supporting my body’s transformation as the weight fell away, it was supporting my mental health, too
Everyone remarked how strong I’d been through AJ’s illness, and most of the time I felt like I was holding it all together. But at times when I needed to let my emotions out, I went for a ride alone, leaving AJ and Stevie-Louise with their dad – letting the stress ebb away, and losing myself in the exercise.
Last year, I made a 30-day commitment to ride every day for charity, and raised £370 for Cancer Research UK’s Sweatember. When it became too cold to ride outside, I signed up to the gym and took spin classes, which I really enjoyed, now completely at ease exercising alongside other people.
I felt a world away from the woman I’d been a year earlier. Before I joined Slimming World, even in the height of summer I wore a denim or leather jacket over size-20 maxi dresses to hide my arms and legs. And shopping trips often ended with tears in the changing rooms when nothing would fit me. Now 3st 6½lbs lighter, I was ordering fashionable clothes in a size 12 without a second thought, knowing that I’d feel good in them. I was so full of confidence in other ways, too. I’d started trying out new looks, socialising more, and I even found a new career, becoming a Slimming World Consultant and running groups in Kitts Green and Shard End.
AJ’s doing really well and we’re looking forward to October when he’ll hopefully finish his treatment and ring the bell in the children’s cancer ward. It will mark the end of a really difficult chapter for our family, but I’ll be forever grateful for what I’ve learnt along the way. Now, my eyes are open to the importance of doing whatever I can to keep my own body and mind healthy. I don’t ever see myself giving up cycling. Along with Food Optimising, it’s a habit that has changed my life.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.
If you’re planning to start a new exercise programme, we recommend you check with your GP first – especially if you have an existing health condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma. If you’re pregnant, check the suitability of the exercise with your midwife.