“The first time I went out on the bike properly – 15km into work – I was so daunted by it, I was wondering how I would manage it. I was wondering if I should start with 5km and then build up to 10 and go from there and then I decided no, I needed to just go and do it. If I started building up to it, I would feel the pain too much. I thought I am going to do it. I am going to do it on this Monday morning, hail or shine I am going to do it,” says cycling enthusiast Teena Gates.
Gates is a force to be reckoned with. One of the most determined individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Just two years ago, she weighed a staggering 23 stone, did not take any exercise and things were not looking good health wise. She has since lost 13 stone, trekked to Everest Base Camp, taken part in running and adventure races and is a hardy year round bike commuter. She not only radiates health, she has undergone a transformation both physically and mentally that would be unfathomable to most and she laughs more than anybody I have ever met.
When the decision was made, on the recommendation of a doctor, that Gates begin to exercise, cycling wasn’t an option: “When I was 23 stone, the idea of shoving my body into lycra wasn’t only embarrassing and ridiculous, it was actually impossible, they didn’t make it big enough. My doctor suggested I join the gym and start with walking.”
“The most challenging thing about the gym wasn’t actually the exercise, it was walking in the door. I thought everybody would be looking at me. But I quickly learnt that people are focusing on their own workout and they are not looking at you at all. And sure if they don’t look just as inelegant and as sweaty and horrible as you do well then they are not doing a very good workout,” says Gates.
When Gates started in the gym she was capable of walking for just one minute on the treadmill at a time. But through grit determination her fitness improved little by little, and coupled with a balanced diet, she also began to lose weight.
As a busy career women, Gates often found it hard to juggle a busy lifestyle with exercise. Eager to use her time wisely and with a new found confidence from her time in the gym and subsequent walking in the hills, she decided she would ditch the car and start cycling the 15km to and from her office in Dublin city centre: “Doing a five day week and trying to fit exercise in around home and work and life is a challenge. I found that cycling into work gave me a 40 minute cycle in and 40 minute cycle home and that might feel daunting at first but it was actually slightly shorter than it took me to drive so I was using my available time, it wasn’t eating out of my day.”
“So that Monday morning, I got up at 4am as I was on the early shift. I put my head out the door and low and behold we were in the middle of the biggest storm we had in the country for about 12 months. I said to myself ‘Oh my god’ but thought If I didn’t do it on that chosen day I would never do it again and if I did it, I knew I would never have any fear about doing it again,” giggles Gates.
And so Gates became a hardy year round commuter. Come rain or shine, the bike wins over the car every time. “I never ask myself should I cycle in and I think that is very important. There is never a question about what the weather is like. I prepare my gear the night before. I never ask myself ‘Do I feel like cycling today or should I take the car?’ As we all know the answer to that on a wet morning. So I removed choice from the situation. I committed the night before, my panniers would be ready so it would be more hassle to start repacking my stuff and put it in the car. I open the door and bang it behind me.”
Gates does admit that the process has not always been plain sailing: “The thing I noticed immediately was how bad I felt. At the beginning cyclists in lycra would fly past me. I would think ‘Oh for heaven’s sake, I am pedalling my little legs as fast as I can’. It was quite demotivating,” she says.
But not one to dwell on the negative for long, Gates came up with a game to amuse herself: “I created a scoring system. If a person in lycra cycled past that was one point, if they were in normal clothes that was two points against me. But if I passed a person in normal clothes, I got one point and if I passed someone in lycra I got five points,” she howls with laughter.
“I remember one day I overtook somebody in jeans and it felt fantastic. It felt wrong to be so pleased about this, but I was chuffed. And then one day, I passed out somebody in lycra and I thought ‘I have arrived!’” she giggles.
Spurred on by her progress on the commute Gates agreed to travel to Uganda to take on a charity challenge which involved hiking, biking and kayaking. “It was more than 200km which was an extraordinary experience on really rough terrain. I couldn’t believe how strong and fit I was on the bike and I literally put that down to all those days cycling in and out of work.”
Feeling stronger than ever, she entered her first adventure race upon her return. She finished the race in 166th position out of 167 competitors. “I didn’t come last,” she bubbles with enthusiasm.
“I did the bike section on my hybrid which has nobbly wheels and a shopping carrier. Everybody was almost weeping for me as I cycled up the hills. I was going so slowly it gave me a great opportunity to appreciate the local scenery,” she laughs. “I even saw an uncurled hedgehog for the first time in my life. Even he was going faster than me! I bought myself a road bike the day after the race!” she continues.
Gates believes that cycling is one of the greatest gifts she has ever received and that her commute to work has been so beneficial: “I bounce into the office every day, I have fresh pinky skin and feel like I have a head start on everybody else. The return journey is just as beneficial. If I’ve had a stressful day, I’ll cycle a little faster home and by the time I get there, I am relaxed and happy again.”
Gates believes that everybody should give cycling a try. “If you feel the cycle to work is too much at first then set it as a goal and work towards it and then on the day that you do manage to cycle the whole way there will be one hell of a celebration, it will feel so good. And then what an amazing gift you are after giving yourself. You are opening up the door to incredible possibilities – you are saving fuel, you are burning your own fuel, you are getting fitter, you are feeling more energized,” she says with a level of energy and enthusiasm that makes us want to ditch work and head straight out on our bikes!
If you want to find out more about Teena Gates and her incredible story, then head on over to her website.
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