Alison was left with with a damaged spine after developing sepsis, to the extent that even walking was a problem. Losing the ability to play sport was immensely challenging as exercise had always been an integral part of her life. When the family was invited to the opening of the Two Tunnels cycle path in Bath, it was with some trepidation Alison went along. She managed six miles on an old bike and found that although she could not walk far unaided, cycling meant she did not lose the power in her legs.
With a new enthusiasm Alison started cycling the downs in Bristol. Despite having cycled a lot, as a student tackling the hills of Bristol on a heavy bike were a challenge. Cycling now became a fun activity with her three sons who progressed from wobbling on stabilisers to being strong and confident on two wheels, and as a family they were able to cycle around the west country and on holidays in France.
Due to the illness, Alison has had multiple back surgeries and started cycling more when walking became difficult. One summer a group of novices were taken on rides of increasing distances, starting at five miles. The delight of being able to push herself through activity was rekindled, so Alison asked a few friends if they wanted to join her on her exploration of the lanes of Bristol. Eventually the group built up to be able to cycle 55 miles to the Cheddar Gorge and back. That was six years ago and now the group of women has grown in size to more around 25, riding around three times a week and have found some wonderful places to cycle, drink coffee and eat cake.
"When we started 5 mile rides were a challenge, now we regularly cycle 30 to 40 miles and some of us are doing our first century ride this summer. The friendships we have made and the improvement in our physical and mental health has been nothing short of miraculous and this is all because of Alison’s drive and encouragement for everyone from lads with health problems to women of a certain age, all of whom Alison supports and encourages."
Most of all I treasure the way cycling has given me so much fun and such immensely valuable and enduring friendships.
Dr Alison Tavare
When Alison first tentatively asked if anyone would like to join her, she could never have anticipated the group not only lasting but thriving. They now cycle over twenty thousand miles each year between them and have ‘Ridden the Night’, cycled from London to Brighton managing Ditchling Beacon in style, the northern Coast to Coast and earlier in 2019, 28 riders cycled from Ilfracombe to Plymouth. Future expeditions include a cycle from Bristol to Bath to Bournemouth, and for 2020 the plan is to ‘do’ the Brecon Beacons.
There have been sad times within the group Alison has set up over the years, though in adversity has come some incredible charitable work as well as inspiring further challenges. Sarah, who was one of the first ‘Wheelers’, died of a brain tumour in 2016. On the morning of her death the group had planned a ride; they went ahead with a gentle and therapeutic excursion. The group catered for Sarah’s funeral and have since raised over £30,000 for the Brain Tumour Trust and other charities in her memory. The group assure us the sad times are outweighed by the many positives of shared goals and lots of fun, laughter and social events.
Alison told us "Life is never without personal challenges and I have had to have numerous operations on my spine and pelvis but cycling has given me back the ability to exercise and feel fit once again. After my last operation I was told it was very likely I would need further extensive spinal surgery within five years; I could be wrong but I feel sure that cycling protects my spine so I have a personal target of cycling 2,500 miles each year. In addition I love being able to explore the local country side and the freedom of being on two wheels, however most of all I treasure the way cycling has given me so much fun and such immensely valuable and enduring friendships."
When she isn't cycling, Alison works as a GP in Bristol and is also the Primary Care Clinical Lead for the West of England Academic Health Science Network. Following her personal experience of sepsis, she has been actively involved in a regional collaboration to improve outcomes for patients. The work has led to the lowest mortality from the suspicion of sepsis in England and she is now involved in the national adoption and spread of system wide changes. In addition Alison is co-leading the West of England Learning Disability collaborative.
Alison’s work colleagues know that even with a busy schedule, she still tries to keep Wednesday and Friday mornings free for cycling!
What is 100 Women in Cycling?
Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling is an annual list celebrating inspirational women who are encouraging others to cycle.