Emma, who won the Rising Star award in the 2021 Celebration of Bikeability, is an instructor who specialises in supporting people with special educational needs and disabilities to cycle. Emma has worked with us to help put together our SEND CPD training, which will be available soon.
How old were you when you started cycling?
I cycled when I was young, couldn’t tell you when I began my cycling journey, but I do remember me and my brother going on canal rides with my Dad. It was on a handed down bike, you know the ones that are far too big for you! I didn’t cycle much through my teenage years, playing rugby league took its place. It was when I was around 18 or 19 that cycling really took its hold. At the time I had a boyfriend, and he was a bike mechanic and BMXer, and for me it was a case of if you can’t beat them join them.
I rode my bike more than I walked; it was attached to me most of the time. Commutes, leisure, dog walks and building trails and jumps where we probably shouldn’t have been building them. Saying that, some of the trails we did, without permission, they’re now designated mountain bike tracks which is ace!
I went through the motions of trying different disciplines. I began with a hybrid bike, I then levelled up to a mountain bike. I got a cyclocross bike but wasn’t keen and then converted it to a road bike which I loved. Around the same time, I dabbled in a little bit of BMX racing, which didn’t end well as I didn’t really know what I was doing. I found the love in road cycling and rode just about everywhere. My daily commute was regularly longer than it needed to be, just to make a journey of it and spend as much time on my bike as possible.
What motivated you to become an instructor?
After completing my degree in Sport and Exercise Science I needed experience in the sports industry. Fortunately for me there was an opening for BMX coaches at my local cycling club. I’d always wanted to be a coach for this club since it began, so I jumped at the opportunity and have been volunteering every Saturday for the past five years. A couple of years ago, one of my coach colleagues got in touch and mentioned that Go Velo had funding to support people with special educational needs to cycle. I’ve spent all my working life supporting both children and adults with complex needs, and when I became a coach, I always wanted to make cycling more inclusive. Thankfully for me, my passion was heard, and I was taken on as an instructor at Go Velo, with a specialization in supporting children and adults with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).
I am totally living the dream. To be able to reach out to underrepresented groups and help spark their enthusiasm for cycling, it really feels like I’m giving a little piece of my heart out. It really makes life worthwhile knowing your helping to make a difference, and to have this platform to be able to motivate those who may have not seen cycling as being viable.
What is your favourite part of the job?
All of it! I love empowering people and showing people they can cycle with a little determination and support. Being able to watch people’s faces as cycling captures them, as their sense of achievement shines through and as they realize they can, is so very rewarding. It doesn’t stop at the riders though, working with complex needs, parents or support staff can also spark a great sense of joy for them too as they witness something they may have never thought possible.
At the moment I am helping the Bikeability Trust with their special educational needs training for instructors and I love that I am able to be a part of this. It takes supporting individuals to cycle to a whole new level. To have this opportunity to aid instructors nationwide be more inclusive, it’s amazing! It will be superb training for instructors that might be a little bit wary and unsure of how best to support someone to cycle who might be presenting with an educational need or a disability.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
On my bike! I can’t say anywhere else really, it’s the best place ever! It doesn’t matter where it is or what the conditions are, cycling is my meditative space. Its such a versatile space/place. I love cycling alone, when everybody gets involved, riding on different terrains and riding on different types of bikes. I also love it when I’m supporting other people to cycle. If I’m on or around a bike I’m happy!
Do you have any top tips for people who want to start cycling or cycle more?
Give Go Velo a call and if we can help you on your cycling journey, we will! There are lots of cycling activities, events, training, and cycle clubs dotted around the country. Finding the right thing to help you on your journey is just a matter of searching the web and seeing what’s available in your local area. There are plenty of free cycling initiatives out there, it’s just about taking them first steps and going out and finding it.
Who’s your cycling hero?
I cannot really pinpoint just one, there’s definitively three people I look up to when it comes to cycling. Firstly, there’s the one and only Kirsti Greyson. It’s a pleasure to be able to witness her relentless drive to uphold the best standards in cycle training delivery at every level in action, and I am incredibly fortunate to have her as my mentor. Her drive is infectious and her willingness to empower others wherever she is able is absolutely fabulous.
Then there’s Mandy aka Manawar Bashah and Andrew Mcghie. These two are just spectacular. Mind you, I’m biased as these two are not only my BMX colleagues, but two of my very close friends. Together they have done so much for the local community. Thanks to their drive and determination we have the most amazing facility MANDYS pump track and a BMX club that is more of a family, one that keeps on growing bigger and better. It was because of these two I got the opportunity to be a BMX coach, they both continue to drive my passion for not only developing cycling in our community but to keep on reaching for the stars when it comes to my own personal ambitions.
If you weren’t a cycle instructor, what would your dream job be?
My son always says to me, “you’ve got the dream job” and he’s right. I don’t think I could be anywhere else. I tried a few different avenues after completing my degree. I qualified as a sports massage therapist and worked doing this for a while as I aspired to be a physio, however I was reluctant to leave my role supporting adults with complex needs. Having the opportunity to be able to combine both passions for supporting people and tie that into my love for cycling. I wouldn’t want to do anything else really!
Are there any projects or things you’re doing that you’d like to tell us about?
I try and support any cycling project I can offer support to. Through the Mountain Bike Colour Collective, my buddy Manawar is encouraging a greater representation of people of colour in the mountain biking community. The initiative to make mountain biking more popular among people of colour is something I’ve been trying to help support through my role here at Go Velo.
I’ve noticed there’s a lot of individuals, especially women in the Muslim culture, who just don’t cycle. So, with funding we obtain at Go Velo we are trying to break down that barrier and start a revolution! In fact, we now have a group of local Asian ladies who were once complete non-riders. They were supported through our cycle training and now actively cycle, one of which is now a breeze champion and leads her own rides out regularly. The group are extending their skillset and are now undertaking further MTB coaching as they wish to upskill so they can tackle more challenging terrain. It really goes to show just how important cycle training is!