I am starting this blog post with a note to say I am in no way shape or form a medical expert, however since my dyspraxia diagnosis in 2017 I have undertaken a large amount of research in a bid to understand how my brain works and try to figure out ways to help myself . The point of this post is to be able to explain how it affects me in cycling and to just genuinely raise awareness of the condition.
Dyspraxia. To a lot of people I sense that’s a word they have never heard or seen before. Dyspraxia is a form of developmental coordination disorder which is most known for effecting movement and coordination. However it affects much more than this, such as social and emotional behaviours, eye movements, memory, processing, learning and perception. Dyspraxia is traditionally more common in boys than in girls but research is starting to question whether this figure is only due to how it presents itself differently in girls. Dyspraxia appears slightly different in each person so people don’t have every sign of the condition.
I was diagnosed dyspraxic just after my 17th birthday. I was tested for both this and dyslexia (which I also have) after going off the rails academically when the work picked up prior to my GCSEs. I had never found school work challenging until this point where I suddenly felt very exposed, it felt like we had all had a hurdle put in front of us and everyone else around me had cleared it. I was incredibly lucky that I had two teachers who raised the alarm that something wasn’t quite right. At this point it was very clear I was dyslexic but no one had raised the question about whether I could be dyspraxic so my diagnosis in 2017 came as quite a shock.
Now you’re probably all trying to work out how this links to cycling. In hindsight it really stood out and I think if there had been more awareness it could have been detected years ago, leading to better management of my problems. It took me years to learn to use rollers and even now I wouldn’t say I am particularly skilled on them. My cornering is strange, I am very good on a left hand turn but put me through a right hand bend and its never going to be as smooth.
I still can’t really ride no handed- I will never forget an RSR back as a youth when we were asked to take jackets off whilst riding and I got completely stuck and ended up on the grass. I was utterly mortified given that I was trying my absolute heart out but genuinely couldn’t balance whilst co-ordinate myself to get my jacket off. It is alarming that coaches can become qualified without any awareness or training on how to spot or deal with conditions such as dyspraxia. It alarms me that I am even having to write this in a bid to maybe just educate one person who may in turn help one child with suspected dyspraxia.
A lot of people ask me how I have got relatively good at something that I should struggle with, the simple answer is a huge amount of will power and determination. I have a lot of people to thank who pushed my talents in a bid for me to not dwell on my weaknesses in sport. PE at school should have been something I hated due to my lack of ability in ball sports, yet I had teachers who really used my natural talent when it came to running, increasing my confidence which has been rock bottom on some occasions due to my difficulties.
In cycling, despite some horrific experiences in skills sessions, over the years I have had coaches around me who would highlight my talents instead 75% of the time. We need more people like this in the sport and we need more awareness. Governing bodies such as British cycling need to include neurodiversity awareness within their coaching courses. Even if I had had a diagnosis I feel like I shouldn’t need to be screaming it out just to be treated fairly. Given the amount of people who get diagnosed late and only get diagnosed as a result of seeking treatment for mental health problems society as a whole needs to change and become more educated.
I want to end this piece with a note to say whether you’re diagnosed dyspraxic or suspect you could have dyspraxia it is far from a barrier to anything. I want to be seen as someone who has gone against the stigma; I am studying for a degree at a Russell group university whilst competing around Europe in a sport that people often say dyspraxics can not do. If you put your mind to anything with the right support you can go against the status quo.