Inspirational blind woman is first to ride bike trail on her own

Rachel Hanks with Marcus Irving
Rachel Hanks with Marcus Irving

An inspirational blind woman from Brighouse is the first in the UK to cycle a 30-mile bike trail on her own.

The conventional way for a blind rider to cycle is on a tandem, with a sighted helper leading the way, but superfit Rachel Hanks, 20, wanted to go it alone.

But when youth worker Marcus Irving took on the challenge to help Rachel he was shocked to find the concept of independent riding was unchartered territory. Even paralymions ride on bikes for two. Instead, thinking Rachel must be the first of her kind, the pair had to work together to create a routine that worked for them, making sure Rachel could be led safely.

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Sports student Rachel said: “The main problem with cycling like this is that I can fall a lot, but I have no problem with falling off my bike, so I just cracked on with it.” Rachel was born with cataracts but went completely blind two years ago. Unknown to her she had a mutation of gene gja8 which means her optical nerve has continually detereorated.

In November 2015 she woke up one morning completely blind. Her mum came down the stairs to find her stood in the dark at the bottom all alone.

Rachel was rushed to hospital where they were delivered the bombshell that she would never see again.

She said: “I was devastated at first. I couldn’t find motivation to do anything, I wasn’t eating.

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“Everything you take for granted was now incredibly hard. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea. After a while my mum said to me that I can either sit around moping or get out there and get on with it.

“Every day I find something that I can do. I intend to live my life to the full, I won’t let blindness stop me.” Rachel completed her mammoth 30 mile cycle on August 25, only falling once.

Her riding coach Marcus said: “No organisation for the blind could provide me with any information at all. I was shocked about that. I realised how unusual Rachel was in wanting to ride her own bike independently. We had to work from scratch.

“The charity British Blind Sport were able to give me some practical advice about cycling with disabililities, and we got a team together with Calderdale Council to get technical and health and safety advice so we could work something out.

“I am absolutely amazed by Rachel, she can do do anything she puts her mind to. She puts us all to shame.”

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