Amanda is passionate about cycling, walking and keeping fit – and having a positive outlook on life. Despite being visually impaired, she regularly takes on challenge events for Sparks to help fundraise for child health research – and to feel that post-exercise rush! This year, Amanda is taking on Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 for Sparks on a tandem, with her pilot Duncan, and she can’t wait.
To tell the world you can’t see
Since getting involved with Sparks back in 2011, Amanda has been keen to explore different ways to help the charity, from volunteering to taking on challenge events herself.
“If I’m honest, I used to smoke until I was 41 and then I quit which was the best thing I ever did. I have gone from being a bit of couch potato on 15 cigarettes a day to now really exercising and loving it,” says Amanda.
“I’ve got a fantastic community of friends that make life possible for me. I did an Action for Happiness course a couple of years ago and that taught me a lot. I’ve learnt to have a new outlook on giving. It can be quite tough not being able to see. I’ve only got 1% sight – I’m registered blind – and I’ve had macular dystrophy for years. The past seven years have been quite difficult because I’ve had to use a white stick, which is like telling the world you can’t see, yet it was the best thing I did as now everyone is aware, and I get so much support.
“But, at the same time I’ve also got some amazing friends around me. I just think, you’ve got a choice. You can either be positive or negative and most of the time it’s better to be positive.”
Amanda is out with her local walking club, East Surrey Walkers, as much as possible. “We’ve got over 400 members and, if I can, I walk with them every weekend.”
“A perfect weekend is walking 10 miles one day and cycling 30-40 miles the next day. I love feeling deliciously tired. That’s what Helen, my twin sister who also has sight loss, and I call it when you come back home after having exercised. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
Amanda has walked with the club for six years and they know exactly what she can and can’t see. “Without them, I wouldn’t be out walking. I’m surrounded by kind and helpful people. I think that’s what makes my life better because there are all these lovely people who want to help me.”
Buzzing with energy
Over the years, Amanda has taken on a variety of different challenge events for Sparks to help fundraise for child health research.
“I did the Spartan race – that’s like a tough mudder obstacle course race. I got a piece in the local paper – back home in Yorkshire where I am originally from – and Spartan press did an interview about me because it was the first time someone with sight loss had done an obstacle course race.”
The Spartan is an innovative race riddled with signature obstacles including mud, barbed wire, walls, rope and fire. Grit and resilience are definitely needed. But Amanda wasn’t worried, quite the opposite.
“They managed to get a tall chap called Adam, who does lots of Spartans, to look after me. There were certain obstacles I couldn’t do, but I climbed over walls, I went into water that came up to my waist, I crawled under barbed wire and jumped over a fire pit. I loved it!
“Adam just held my hand and talked me through each one. I’d never done it before, but it was absolutely fantastic. And then I was interviewed at the end, and I was just really, really buzzing. I did that for Sparks.
“I also did a triathlon for Sparks in 2013, which was down at East Grinstead, so that was a swim in a swimming pool, a run and then a bike ride on a tandem – that’s when I started falling in love with tandem bikes. My sister and I did that – and she beat me. It was quite competitive, but that was really good.”
This year, Amanda is taking on Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 for Sparks on a tandem.
RideLondon on a tandem
Amanda is a member of her local cycling club and goes out cycling twice a week to train for RideLondon. “Alan, Duncan, Pat and Matt are my four pilots and they make my life wonderful. Without them I wouldn’t be cycling. They’re all part of the Oxted cycling club, like me.”
“When I wanted to join the club I basically rang up and said, ‘I love cycling, I’ve got a helmet, but I haven’t got a bike and I’m visually impaired – has anybody got a tandem in the club?’ and Russell, who is the chairman, said no, but leave it with me.
“After about four months, he called me back and said ‘right, there is a chap who has joined, and he’s got a tandem’. That was back in 2014. Last year I got my own tandem – that was the best. It was fantastic, the cycling club put money into helping me buy it. They all donated so I could get a tandem. And then once I got my tandem there was no stopping me.
“It takes a certain skill, it’s not like riding your own bike I’m told. The pilots [in front] are responsible for me and I have to put my full trust in them. I don’t do any gear changing, I haven’t got any breaks, so I’m completely putting my trust in the pilot and I do that with all my guys. And I’ve gone 43 miles/h down a hill!”
Forever looking for an exercise rush, Amanda loves the feel of tandem cycling. “I was a bit nervous at first, but now my confidence has really grown, and I have taken part in many sportives getting ready for the big one.”
Why fundraise for Sparks?
“For my eye condition, I’m one in 5000. There are so many rare diseases out there and research is so vital. When you look at it, there is loads of research into adult conditions, but when it comes to paediatric research there isn’t enough.
“I think it’s important to fundraise for Sparks for the mums and dads that have a child with a rare disease. Whether their child is one in 1000 or one in 500, it’s their baby. Research is vital, it needs to be done and Sparks does that.”
Join Amanda at Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100
Fancy taking on Surrey’s toughest climbs? Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 is a unique experience, riding on closed roads, with an incredible route starting at the Olympic Park in Stratford, through Surrey and Box Hill and finishing on the Mall in London.
Join Team Sparks this year and help fund pioneering child health research. We’ll be there to support you all the way to the famous finish line!
“I’m looking forward to RideLondon. I just love the freedom and the feeling you get when you have achieved a fantastic sportive. The exercise, sharing the day with other cyclists, the endorphins. Feeling deliciously tired – there is no better feeling,” says Amanda.
So far, Amanda has persuaded a group of six cycling buddies to join her at Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100. “I’ve got great team so far and we’re all going to do it together for Sparks which is brilliant. I’d love to get more people to join us.”
Fancy joining Amanda and her group?