We caught up with Margaret Twomey, a nurse working with St John of God Disability Services in Kerry, to hear about how getting involved in AXA Community Bike Rides has helped her cope with the impact of Covid-19 on both her work and personal life. Here’s her story…
I joined the AXA Community Bike Rides programme in March 2020. At the time I remember it was a particularly anxious and stressful time at work, working with vulnerable adults on the front line, as there was a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability with Covid. This structured cycling programme gave me a new focus and provided light relief from the stresses of work. From the outset it was a positive experience for me with its focus on non-competitive participation and rewards for a set number of rides I completed.
I already owned a bike which I got on ’the bike to work scheme’ and in the previous year I had completed a 6-week programme with a local cycling group, which I had enjoyed immensely. Over the winter months, I had taken a break from cycling due to the drop in temperatures and shorter day light hours. Joining AXA Community Bike Rides in March seemed like an ideal time to get back on the bike again.
I have taken part in both group and solo rides in my area, which has increased my fitness levels and I’ve also noticed an improvement in my sense of well-being. On our group rides, there is a lovely bond of friendship and there is something lovely about having others to cycle with and to have a shared experience. Group cycling shortens the journey and is a great motivator as we all support and encourage each other along the way. It’s all about the ‘coffee break’ on a group cycle, which allows us to forget about clocking up the kms and climbing hills. During 2020, we cycled along routes previously unknown to us and got out to lovely Fenit harbour and Banna beach on bright sunny evenings. Information on bike maintenance and good cycling gear was shared generously by Tom our leader. The pace was always steady and unrushed, and our planned coffee break was always a very welcome respite before setting out again on the return journey. After an evening of group cycling, my mood was always heightened and I felt a great sense of personal achievement, a feeling that carried through to the days ahead which helped me become more resilient to challenges.
Cycling solo has become more frequent for me now due to restrictions. It’s a quieter, more reflective experience, which allows me to wind down and take stock and appreciate the changes in the world around me. Things not easily visible from any other modes of transport come into my sharp focus on the bike. I am in constant awe of the changing landscape and all my senses are heightened with the mixture of different sounds from the bird and animal kingdom, the differing smells from farmyards that I frequently pass around Tralee, and the beauty of the mountains and rivers that are ever changing. This has a relaxing and gratifying effect on me. Stopping along route to take a photo to receive the credits from AXA Community Bike Rides has been nice, as its a time to pause and refuel with refreshments wherever I want to. I have loved receiving the rewards of a buff, the water bottle and more recently the 100 rides t-shirt.
AXA Community Bike Rides is now like a ritual for me, as it has given a new meaning to my day when I’m off work. I like that the cycle can be whatever I want it to be. I sign up for a solo bike ride, and on that particular day, I can set off at a time that suits me…turn right or left from my house and have a new adventure and discover new areas even within my 5km restriction zone. This has given me a fresh new outlook and an appreciation of the world around me. I frequently hum to the sound of my favourite songs as ‘I pedal on, pedal on for miles’ like the Luka Bloom song from the album ‘the Acoustic Motorbike’. Participating in regular bike rides has made me feel fitter, stronger, and given me a new sense of confidence, as I no longer worry about being out on my own on the bike. I like that the cycles can be whatever I want them to be.
I’d encourage everyone to get involved. There's no greater feeling than getting out in the open air on the bike with the wind in your face. Cycling is a low impact exercise, easy on the joints that you can take up at any age and keep improving on. There’s plenty of choice with the AXA Community Bike Rides programme with a cycle suitable for everyone. The 10km and 20km options are very manageable, and you’ll feel a great sense of achievement and well-being after completing them. This is a very unique programme with great support and advice for beginners. Don’t let the weather stop you…improvements in cycle wear have greatly facilitated comfort in all conditions and it makes you feel alive getting out in the outdoors!
Actively participating in this programme, and reading about other members’ experiences and achievements, makes me feel connected to something bigger…a bigger group of cyclists all out clocking up the kms on the bike! I look forward to getting back to group rides in the near future but for now let’s all keep well by taking part in solo bike rides.