Partially sighted cyclist thinks life is looking up thanks to Swindon Sky Rides and urges others to give them a try.
Shaun Mansbridge has regained a more positive outlook on life thanks to the Swindon Sky Rides, which have helped the former keen cyclist get back on his bike for the first time in 10 years.
Shaun, aged 40, from Pinehurst, is partially sighted and lost all confidence to go out cycling after being diagnosed with a rare condition which will ultimately result in blindness.
But that all changed, this summer, when he found out about the free guided bike rides in Swindon open to everyone.
He said: “Starting cycling again has literally got my whole life back on track. I first heard about the Sky Rides on Facebook and thought I’d got nothing to lose, so signed myself up even though I hadn’t used my bike in years. Everything about the experience was amazing and I’ve been going on one every Sunday ever since.”
The disease, called retinitis pigmentosa, means Shaun has had to learn to get by with very limited vision and is, for instance, unable to drive.
“I’ve had it all my life but was formally diagnosed in 2004 and it’s got much worse. I’ve basically got no usable sight in my right eye now and only very narrow central vision in my left. I’ll eventually lose that too,” he said.
As his sight deteriorated, Shaun stopped going out and felt increasingly depressed.
“I basically shut myself away and stopped doing the things I loved, like cycling. I used to be brilliant on a bike, but lost the bottle as the visual impairment took hold. My bike was just there gathering dust and I started to feel really down about everything,” he said.
“There was something about the Sky Rides which made me think this is my chance, I can actually do it. The rides are led by an experienced cyclist so I would be in safe hands if anything went wrong.”
The rides, which started in June and continue until September, are funded by Sport England and organised by Swindon Borough Council in partnership with British Cycling and Sky.
Held on Sundays, they vary in level of difficulty and distance, starting from four miles.
Besides being an opportunity to get some exercise, they are also a great way to meet new people and discover hidden beauty spots in the Borough. Budding and keen cyclists alike can sign up by going online at www.goskyride.com/swindon
“The first one was fantastic – that buzz of cycling and sense of adventure came back straight away. I didn’t take my eye off the leader’s back wheel and everything was fine,” Shaun said.
“We chatted a bit along the way and it was nice to be in the company of other cyclists, who were also really enjoying it. It’s very informal and you realise how good the cycle paths are around here and what lovely countryside there is right on your doorstep.”
Shaun is now gearing up for some longer Sky Rides, which cover up to 30 miles, to build up his fitness and stamina because he plans to start fundraising for Swindon Guide Dogs by taking on other physical challenges.
He said: “You can burn quite a lot of calories on these rides – I’ve already lost a few pounds and I’m getting back in shape. I want to do the Visually Impaired Three Peaks Challenge next year and raise money for a special charity, which may ultimately help me one day. I’m already on the guide dog waiting list and want to start paying my way for the support which is a lifeline for so many people in similar situations to mine.”
So taken is he with the events, Shaun also wants his partner Patricia and others to give it a whirl.
“She hasn’t been on a bike in ages, but that’s the beauty of these Sky Rides – it doesn’t matter. There’s always someone experienced there to give you a hand and spur you on,” he said.
“I already feel so much happier and fitter now – these rides really have changed my life and they could work wonders for you too. Just give it a go and you’ll surprise yourself.”
Cllr Keith Williams, Cabinet Member for Corporate and Leisure Services, is also encouraging residents to get involved.
He said: “It’s fantastic that the Sky Ride initiative has come to Swindon and so many local people are making the most of these free bike rides. Shaun’s story shows just what a positive difference they are making to people’s lives and I’m delighted that he has now rediscovered the sheer pleasure of cycling.
These events are open to everyone throughout the summer, although places are limited and they’re filling up fast, so sign up and get booked on as soon as you can.”
Find out more about cycling opportunities in Swindon online at www.leisureinswindon.co.uk/cycling