“Don’t think that where you are at the moment is where you have to stay” – Betty-Ann
Having retired at 64, Betty-Ann felt like everything was coming to an end. However, later that year a friend told her she was learning to ride a bike and Betty-Ann was immediately inspired - cycling was something she had always wanted to do! Since then Betty-Ann has become a fully qualified cycling instructor and has taught hundreds of people of all ages to cycle.
We spoke to Betty-Ann, an American/Scottish woman with an incredible cycling story. Having never cycled before, Betty-Ann decided to start learning at the age of 64 and is now a qualified cycling instructor and a British Cycling Ride Leader for their HSBC Breeze Women Only Rides and has a Level 1 coaching certificate. Cycling has changed her life and she is keen to share her love of cycling with others because she knows the physical and mental benefits that it brings to people of all ages and abilities.
Hello Betty-Ann, tell us a bit about yourself and what made you decide to learn how to cycle?
I never learned to ride a bike as a child as my family moved around a lot and I never got the chance. My grandparents had emigrated from Scotland with two young boys, while my mother was the second of three girls born after they arrived in America. My grandparents passed on their sense of Scottishness to me, so when my mother and I came to Scotland in 1961 (when I was 14), it was as though we had come home. When I came to do my master’s degree at Sheffield University in 1994, I thought I would miss Scotland terribly, but I found I loved Sheffield just as much. So, I stayed to do my PhD and then just stayed.
In July 2011 I retired at the age of 64 and thought what now? It seemed like things were ending and that wasn’t a good feeling. That same year, at a Halloween party, a friend of mine she said she was learning to ride a bike. I said that was something I’d always wanted to do, so she put me in touch with the company and I booked myself onto a Learn to Ride Course. One phone call and my new beginning had started without me knowing where it might take me.
To begin with I was sure I didn’t want to ride on the road. I just wanted to be able to ride and enjoy the freedom of being outside with the wind, sun and sometimes the rain and hear the birds singing. I was lucky to be able to borrow a bike until one of my neighbours gave me one she was no longer using. So now I had my own bike, which I used to walk down to Hillsborough Park, ride around, and then walk it back. On my way to and from the park, people used to comment that I should be riding the bike rather than walking it. I began to think they were right, so I phoned the company again and asked them to teach me to ride from my house to the park. They said no! What I needed was to do their How to Ride on the Road Courses. And they were right – I did all three of their courses and have never looked back!
You didn’t stop there though, did you?
No, British Cycling had just decided to bring led rides to Sheffield and were looking for an ambassador. I applied and was delighted when my application was accepted. They were also asking people to train to lead rides, so I did that course too and qualified as a ride leader. So, I was now able to start taking women out on road rides as part of British Cycling’s programme of Breeze rides.
Quite a few men thought it wasn’t right that we were doing women only rides. Although I understood what they were trying to say, I also know that a lot of women really benefit from going on an all-woman ride. Having said that, I also know that many men really do benefit from being in a mixed group and wanted to join easy-going rides as part of a supportive group. That’s why, in 2016, my husband and I started a group called Wheel Do It! as part of British Cycling’s Ride Social programme. The aim of Wheel Do It! is to encourage and support men and women to ‘ride further and climb higher’ at a pace that suits them. We now have over 400 members in our Facebook Group. There are so many people in that group who started their riding with us and now put on rides of their own or ride with their friends or go on solo adventures because they love the freedom and enjoyment that cycling brings.
As you know Sheffield has a lot of hills! That is why I like to encourage and support participants to learn how to climb the hills so that they can enjoy the views from the top, feel the sense of achievement that it brings and experience the exhilaration of going downhill. So many people have told me they have my voice of encouragement and instruction in their heads whenever they go up a steep hill!
Last year my husband Paul and my friend Linda, both qualified British Cycling Coaches, and we started running sessions for young children on balance bikes and their first pedal bikes. These sessions have been such a joy to do. To see the smiles on the children’s faces and the pride shown by the parents is just so rewarding. We put on a mother and child ride on in Hillsborough Park this January and it was amazing to see children who had started with us on balance bikes now riding pedal bikes around the park and enjoying every puddle they could find! We do these coaching sessions at Forge Valley Cycle Circuit though the North Midlands Youth Squad (Cycling Sheffield) alongside their sessions for more experienced riders up to the age of 16.
What messages would you like to give people thinking of cycling?
If someone had said to me when I retired in 2011 that by now I would have accomplished all of the above as well as going down to London at the end of last year to receive my certificate as one of the UK’s top 100 women cyclists of 2019 and having lunch on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament I would have said they were kidding me!
So, the message I want to give is don’t think that where you are at the moment is where you have to stay. Decide where you want to go or what you want to do and then just TAKE THAT FIRST STEP and keep going until you get there! Begin your journey and ENJOY IT!