Anna Hughes

Isabelle Clement – Wheels for Wellbeing

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Isabelle Clement – Wheels for Wellbeing

On April 18, 2017, Posted by , In Cycling,Pedal Power, With 2 Comments

Isabelle Clement is the Director of Wheels for Wellbeing, a London-based charity that enables people with a disability to access cycling.

I was inspired by Isabelle’s story after having stumbled across this video, and was pleased when she agreed to be part of my book, Pedal Power. Isabelle’s story appears in the chapter ‘Beyond the Bike’, which explores how the bicycle has changed the lives of those for whom mobility is a difficulty. It features Para-athletes, those who’ve recovered from life-threatening injuries to continue to live full and challenging lives, and those for whom the bicycle is a lifeline to their everyday living.

Below is Isabelle’s story as it appears in the book.

Isabelle Clement. Photo credit: Kaitlin Tosh

Isabelle Clement and her handbike. Photo credit: Kaitlin Tosh

Isabelle Clement – Wheels for Wellbeing

It was trying to keep up with her four-year-old son that caused Isabelle Clement to turn her wheelchair into a bike – and open the door to a new life.

Isabelle had a spinal tumour at ten months of age, meaning that she has never been able to walk very far or run at all. When she reached her mid-twenties, she increasingly used a wheelchair to get about. She had once tried to learn to ride a bicycle as a child, but unable to balance or keep her feet on the pedals, she gave up the attempt. The lid closed on the idea of cycling. So when her son got his first bike, and Isabelle struggled to keep up, she began searching around and came across an adapter for her wheelchair. ‘I realised cycling doesn’t stop at the simple bicycle.’

The adapter has a large wheel at the front, powered by hand-cranks, which raises her wheelchair off its two small casters, making the ride smoother, faster and easier. Using hand-cranks means she can go ‘off-road’ without getting mud up her arms.

Her first ride was a ‘walk’ with friends. With her transformed wheelchair, she left them behind. For the first time in her life, she felt the wind in her hair, the blood pumping round her veins and the whoosh of endorphins flooding her body. It was nothing like she had ever experienced before. That first ride was like crashing through a glass door – she had never envisaged travelling any distance at all under her own steam but suddenly, she could go as far as her imagination would take her.

Turning her wheelchair into a bike was a revelation. It wasn’t just the travel; she also experienced a different attitude in those around her. No longer seen as ‘someone in a wheelchair’, she noticed how people reacted positively to her wheelchair bike: smiling, laughing and pointing in surprise. Their reaction is joy, not pity – even though she is exactly the same person, in exactly the same chair.

Isabelle took on the Directorship of Wheels for Wellbeing, a charity that maintains a fleet of bicycles, tricycles, tandems and wheelchair tandems to enable disabled people to access cycling. She also campaigns for better infrastructure for those with disabilities. ‘Cycling infrastructure is built by people who assume disabled people don’t cycle, and access is often poor,’ she says. ‘The assumption is that disabled people want to drive or need taxis to get about.’ Some disabled cyclists are told: ‘You can’t cycle here. And anyway, if you were really disabled, you wouldn’t be on a bike!’

Mobility is freedom, as Isabelle experienced with that first handbike ride. ‘People don’t realise how enabling and freeing the right set of wheels can be,’ she explains. ‘Powering my bike forwards is like powering my life forwards.’

Pedal Power is available to buy now online, as an ebook, or in any good bookshop

2 Comments so far:

  1. Carrie gray says:

    Lovely Isabelle is also a mentor for newbie friends just entering the world of chairs. I would not have embraced it with as much …. I cannot think of the right word….. maybe – confidence, Without her.

    • Anna says:

      Thanks for sharing Carrie. Great to hear that Isabelle has had such a positive influence on you. She is truly an inspiration!

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