I was about 12 years old when I was told I had a significant hearing loss. I have worn hearing aids since I was a teenager, and was profoundly deaf by 21.
Around the time of my diagnosis, I watched my dad, who is hearing, take on incredible charity cycling challenges – cycling across America, Australia and Canada. I didn’t really understand the magnitude of his achievements back then but as I’ve matured, it makes me immensely proud and I feel cycling is something which is in my blood.
The idea of following in my father’s tyre tracks came to me at university and this year I have signed up to RideLondon – a huge 100 mile cycle ride across London and through the hills of Surrey in July. Then in September, I’m tackling a mammoth 3,200 miles across America, both for charities Action on Hearing Loss and CLIC Sargent.
As my hearing aids are not waterproof, I ride without them as sweat or rain could cause them to break and at over £2k a piece it’s really not worth it, so I hear absolutely nothing whilst on the road.
I’ve been deaf for a number of years so a silent world is something that I am used to, though it feels quite surreal taking out my hearing aids, like somebody pushed a mute button, with people around me but absolutely no sound.
Naturally, my observation skills have improved tenfold, particularly with lip reading and facial expressions, and I’m constantly aware of my surroundings. On the bike, observation is paramount, as without it, I’m much more exposed to an accident than a hearing person would be.
The biggest obstacle to overcome is trying to maintain safe positioning on the road, as I don’t know when someone is behind me or about to pass. The shock of seeing a vehicle passing closely without hearing means it’s easy to start wobbling and potentially crash into an unsuspecting vehicle- another reason drivers should consider how much space they give cyclists on the road.
I’m constantly looking around when I’m cycling, so much so that my neck and back are often aching after a few hours in the saddle. I never take risks when I’m not 100% certain that it’s safe.
A few times I’ve been on small country lanes, looked around and found three or four cars stuck behind me. I have no doubt they’d been blasting their horns because when I move over to let them pass, I often get the finger.
When I first started training, I went out with my local club. As much as I loved the feeling of being part of a group, the experience was quite frustrating.
In a group, you usually ride in a line, taking turns at the front then dropping to the back to break the wind for each other. I was nervous about my turn as I wouldn’t be able to hear the leader barking instructions from behind.
I’m pretty sure I missed a turn a few miles in and this prompted the leader to swap tactics, making those at the back accelerate to the front. I appreciated that he adjusted the ride, but at the same time it made me feel bad for the group having to adjust their social events to accommodate me.
I didn’t go to another ride after that as I figured it was easier to train on my own, something which makes me feel much more comfortable.
Some people might think that deaf people cycling or driving is dangerous, but what I lack in hearing, I more than make up for elsewhere. I question whether a hearing person cycling or driving with music is actually more dangerous as they usually – unconsciously – rely on hearing.
Deaf cycling is incredibly tranquil. It allows you to think clearly and having cycled both with and without sound, I definitely prefer the latter.
I’m incredibly excited about the challenging year ahead. I hope that I prove deafness is no barrier to life, and doesn’t prevent people from embracing their passions. I encourage anyone, deaf or hearing, to sign up to RideLondon or another cycling challenge this year.
Visit www.rideforthechild.co.uk to read more about Shane’s challenges and donate to his fundraising page.
Visit www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/get-involved/fundraise/running-and-sports-events/london/ridelondon-2016 to sign up to RideLondon 2016 for Action on Hearing Loss.
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