The Arsenal Foundation has for many years helped to fund Pedal Power, a north London cycling club for people with disabilities that runs sessions on the podium outside Emirates Stadium and in Finsbury Park. Nina, 58, tells us how it has helped her.
“I was born in Munich but have lived in London since 1988. I used to be a yoga teacher and worked in a cinema, but then I had a serious accident and broke my back and my pelvis. I had several operations, got PTSD and lost my job. I’m still working on recovering both physically and mentally. The life I had before disappeared and I’m still figuring out who I am now and what I can do with my life.
“Jo, the founder of Pedal Power, happens to be my next-door neighbour. I loved cycling before my accident, but I couldn’t see a way to get back on my bike afterwards. I couldn’t even go near my bike at home. Jo suggested I come along to Pedal Power – they have so many specialist bikes that she was sure there would be one I could use.
“It was in August 2020, 18 months after my accident. Somebody rolled out a recumbent tricycle and showed me how to get into it. They rode alongside me for a little while and then I went off by myself. I don’t know how to describe to you how happy I felt – to feel the wind in my face, to be in motion under my own steam again, that sense of freedom; maybe you remember the feeling as a kid when you get your first bike and you’re off and the world is your oyster.
“It was the first time I experienced joy since my accident; the first time I didn’t feel helpless. I think I only managed a couple of laps before I was knackered, but I was already looking forward to my next time.
“The sessions are an hour long and take place at Emirates Stadium on Thursday mornings and at the running track in Finsbury Park on Tuesday mornings and Saturday afternoons, from February until the end of November. Over time, I worked my way up to using a two-wheeler and, finally, my own bike and eventually back into clip-in pedals. I only managed that thanks to the coaches at Pedal Power – they are so sensitive to the participants’ needs and never push you into anything. That to me is unique to Pedal Power – I knew that even if I just went along and never got on any bike, nobody would try to nudge me into “giving it a go” and nobody would be disappointed in me. And that’s what gave me the confidence to begin to think that I could do this. I spent many months going every week to improve my fitness and my bike handling and eventually got back to cycling on the road.
“It was really inspiring to meet all the other participants too. Many of them have a lot more difficulties to deal with than I do, and it gave me a real lift to feel the joy of cycling we all shared.
Everybody was so kind and accepting; I had never experienced that before. They create a very unique environment that feels very safe and where everybody belongs, no matter what their difficulties may be. It’s amazing how creative the cycle coaches are in finding ways to enable people to enjoy cycling and it’s inspiring to see how people respond.
“Jo has an incredible knack for bringing people together and the sense of community is a big part of Pedal Power – it’s so much more than just a cycling club, it’s also a real communal space for friends, parents and support workers. It was eye-opening for me to see how people are cooperating to help each other and it’s so enriching to be a part of it. It’s also a very diverse environment – volunteers come from all sorts of different backgrounds, as do the participants.
“I started volunteering at Pedal Power in January 2021. I wanted to give a little back after how much Pedal Power gave me, but in fact I got much more from volunteering than I gave. I help on the reception desk, welcoming people and filling in the register, answering questions and trying to help everything run smoothly. I enjoy it very much and it’s lovely to see how much people enjoy their cycling.
“For myself, Pedal Power enabled me to get to enjoy cycling again, restoring a little freedom to my life. It changed my outlook as well – I had never had any contact with people with learning disabilities before, and it broadened my horizons a lot. After my accident, it was a lifeline to a way back into the world for me, both as a participant and as a volunteer.
“It’s also lesson in mindfulness. When you see that look of pure joy on the face of a person whose wheelchair is strapped to the front of a bicycle flying along the track, it becomes obvious that there really is only the present moment, and you have a choice whether to experience it fully or bury it under your thoughts and fears and regrets. It has helped me to remember to choose joy, and that is probably the biggest gift it has given me.
“As a volunteer I get to be a part of a community that is warm and sincere. People here genuinely help and support each other. I really enjoy that interaction is based on cooperation rather than competition. And it’s nice to be able to help connect more people and enable them to become part of it too.
“To be honest, my image of football clubs comes purely from the media and if you ask me what I associate with football clubs I would say corporate greed and obscene amounts of money. I had never heard of The Arsenal Foundation before volunteering at Pedal Power. I think it’s brilliant what you do, and it should be better known.”
For more info visit pedalpowercc.org
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