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Laura Shevlin and The Pull conquer the Lake Leman

Cycling isn't just a sport...it's mental health.

We all have a plight that is especially close to our hearts, don’t we? For some it’s the environment, for others it's feminism, for a lot of Brits like me it's animal welfare (we have a thing for donkeys) but mine is mental health. I’ve always been both interested and impacted by it. I remember my first encounters with minds unlike mine – the homeless man pushing his shopping trolley whilst muttering to himself, my father’s unpredictable rages, my best friend’s unparalleled energy... And all that was okay until she took her own life when we were in our twenties and broke my heart into a million pieces.  After that, I realised mental health didn’t just affect others – it was, and is, so very close. 

In the years that followed, I stood powerlessly on the sidelines as my sister succumbed and then retaliated against the darkest form of addiction, I witnessed so many close friends try and make sense of their panic attacks, their somber moods and their irrational thoughts and then of course I also danced the merry jig with the overbearing powers of the mind slumping into darkness or worrying about the minutiae for seemingly no reason at all.

Mental health is to me, a tightrope that we all walk and a simple gust of wind can decide whether we slip into the abyss or stand firm. Lucky for us there are so many things we can do to feel good! 

Anyone who’s ever ridden a bike knows that there is no better therapy than clipping in and getting outside. Ever since I found my passion and with it, my people, I’ve been wanting to share it with my partner. But while he enjoyed it, it wasn’t his thing, football is. But as he and his cherished pub teammates were starting to nurse sore backs and fragile ankles, their retirement loomed. And I started to worry about the end of that era.  Where would he get time for himself, his fix of endorphins and his regular catch up with friends? Was he going to be okay? And so together we came up with a plan and put together a proposal whereby he suggested to his mates that they swap the pitch for pedals and take part in the Cyclotour du Leman – 176kms around the largest lake in Europe with the added incentive of raising money for charity.

They were overwhelmingly up for it and what started out as a hope to have a team of around ten cyclists turned into so much more.  We set up a Whatsapp Group, found a really special local charity that helps people in psychological difficulty enjoy outdoor activities and started to put dates in the diary. Some of us had never cycled before, some of us were Iron Men (well one of us is!), some of us weren’t fit, weren’t confident or didn’t have a lot of spare time but somehow through all of this over 50 people came together. This group became a community that rallied for the months leading up to the event – we were all friends of friends and that meant that when we’d meet up on cold and wet Saturday mornings to train, we’d immediately feel at ease. Each and everyone brought something different to the table – there were those that brought in the sponsors that meant we could get kitted out and feel like a team, those who would stop and help change flats on a ride, we had a nutrition expert, an amazing route planner, a road safety guru and a million cheerleaders.

On the day of the Cyclotour we met at dawn. It was a beautiful day, nestled in between weeks of endless rain and there we were, in our matching jerseys, hyped up and ready to ride. Some of us had performance targets and some of us just wanted to make it round with our friends. A few of us hadn’t planned on doing more than a third of the ride having recently recovered from surgery, just taken up the sport or gone through some tough personal stuff.

So, we set off, launching off that start line full of hope and determination. I can only speak to my Cyclotour which for close to six hours saw me elated, frustrated and contented in equal measures. I rode with my mates, alone and with strangers but nothing felt as good as arriving in Lausanne to the sound of my friends, old and new, shouting out our team name, to seeing my son’s face so proud for having smashed his own goals, my daughter running towards me and then my partner come in with his peloton, a football team on wheels and my sister in law in tears for having achieved something she never thought possible. 

I don’t need to tell you this, but cycling isn’t just a sport. It's family. It's community. It's physical health and most importantly it's mental health.

By Laura Shevlin @laura_shevlin

Founder of The Pull
Because everyone has a bike story.

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