“Things can be harder with disabilities but I will never let anyone pity us. This is the life we have been given, it’s incredible and we love it.”
Vicky and CeCe Balfour are mother and daughter, and keen cyclists. 15 year old CeCe has a mix of physical and cognitive disabilities alongside autism. Here they share with us the joy that their active lifestyle brings.
Hey Vicky and CeCe, tell everybody where are you based and what you do!
We are Vicky and CeCe Balfour – a Mum and Daughter – living in Kent along with Al (husband/Dad), Henry (big brother), Ned & Billy (dogs). CeCe is 15 years old now and was born with a unique genetic mutation, which created a mix of physical and cognitive disabilities alongside autism.
For some reason, I always thought I’d be Mum to two sporty, energetic boys, with whom we’d be living a full-on active family life. Having a daughter didn’t dent this vision, but finding that she had disabilities was an unexpected variation. It didn’t hold us back for long: I can remember one holiday on the West Coast of Scotland where I insisted on walking along a coastal path with CeCe in her Mountain Buggy. Too old for a backpack carrier, but unable to walk, we lifted her over styles and pushed on long after the path became too narrow. I have always been determined not to let her disabilities affect the way we raised her and lived as a family, we just find ways round things.
At work I am a bike mechanic and run my own business, Vicky Bikes, which helps people create pockets of adventure in their lives. I teach mechanics (online and face-to-face) as well as leading rides and encouraging people to get back in to riding or chase their dreams of riding further. Confidence and independence is a huge part of what I do; if you can fix your bike then you can cycle anywhere and don’t have to live with fear! It’s very empowering.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
I grew up in Lymington, Hampshire and I’ve been on boats since I was born. We sailed every weekend, usually heading over to a network of creeks on the Isle of Wight. For me and my brother, weekends were total freedom – rowing and sailing in dinghies, exploring the creeks, playing in the mud. As we got bigger, the boats got bigger and we sailed further. By my teens we were crossing the Channel every summer to sail in France. I replaced boats with bikes about 6 years ago and spend as much time out riding as I can. Either on my Mason Bokeh, my full-suspension MTB or my trusty hybrid. Between bikes and dogs I spend a large proportion of my days outside.
According to CeCe, her first memory of enjoying the outdoors is when she started ‘knee-boarding’ on holiday aged 8. She’d seen the rest of us water-skiing and wanted to try, so we created her version of knee-boarding – she lay on a knee-board, with an adult anchoring her to the board, and got towed behind a ski-boat. Unfortunately, she hasn’t had a chance to do it for years but she still lists it as one of her favourite activities.
What’s been your favourite trip or adventure?
“Cycling with my grandparents!” was CeCe’s reply to this!
During the first lockdown CeCe started riding after we got a pull-along trike which attaches to my bike. Our first tentative rides went towards Whitstable, along the Crab & Winkle cycleway, but now we go for long rides in Kent and down in the New Forest with Grandparents. This summer we even headed over to the Isle of Wight.
Riding with CeCe is joyful – few people have seen an adult-sized rider on a pull-along trike but it makes multi-generational bike rides so accessible. One Friday in August we hopped on the ferry to the Island with my folks and 16 of their friends (average age 75!) for a 20 mile loop with pub lunch. The following week we hooked up the pull along and joined two sets of CeCe and Henry’s Grandparents for another ride on the Island. That time we cycled to Newtown for a picnic. I agree with CeCe, these are very special adventures!
How do you find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
We like to create ‘pockets of adventure’ in our everyday lives – whether it’s cycling to the beach, cycling to school or going on a family bike ride. Seen from the right perspective anything can be an adventure and we love the elements of fun and freedom they bring to our daily lives. Thankfully CeCe’s superpower is memory and organisation, so I am never allowed to forget a planned activity. I see this as a positive side of autism – though the counter is helping CeCe learn to live with changes in plans and spontaneity.
We give CeCe as much of a ‘typical’ childhood as possible which now includes cycling to school. I’m sure cycling to school was a big factor in developing my love of cycling. We haven’t done it regularly yet, but we are planning to change that in the autumn – it’s a great way to get an outdoor/pocket of adventure fix on a daily basis!
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
CeCe’s response to this made me smile! With a bit of thought and a huge grin, she named Abi and Izzy - two of her carers on our summer activity holidays.
What I love most about Abi and Izzy is that they share our belief that CeCe is capable of so much and there is usually a way of making activities accessible and enjoyable for her. Over the years these two have helped CeCe knee-board, swim, kayak, paddleboard and sail! They instil her with confidence and harness her determination so she can overcome her fears.
My inspiration comes from many places but at the core are my parents who gave me and my brother opportunity, freedom and independence from an early age.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Yes! It helps us both in so many ways: for starters we build confidence and resilience every time we tackle a new hill – we cheer each other on, use visualisation techniques and when all else fails engage Henry as cheerleader and motivational shouter! We’ve yet to be beaten by a hill!
Then there’s the hidden benefits that come with being able to enjoy activities as a family and with friends. Many disabled families find that cycling is one time when they feel ‘normal’. The bikes look a bit different but the cycle paths are the same and we’re just another family or group of friends out for a bike ride.
What is it about cycling specifically that you love?
I find cycling in nature is a form of meditation. Even more than daily dog walks I find that cycling lets my mind relax. I love watching seasons change, spotting animals and relish feeling my body move.
I love the fact that it’s helped me navigate the teenage years with Henry and CeCe – sharing my happy place with them and giving them a chance to chat without the spotlight focus of a family meal table. Seeing each other overcome fears or challenges has given us a mutual respect which we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Cycling gives you a connection to the area you live in as well as a sense of your own identity. Conquering hills or mastering new routes reminds you that you can grow and tackle difficult things. CeCe says cycling makes her happy! I love how cycling makes CeCe smile; as we cycle I listen to her behind me, chattering and singing, interspersed with the odd ‘I love you Mum’.
When did you discover FINDRA?
I first discovered FINDRA a year or two after it launched. Not long after that I met Alex at a talk at ‘Look Mum No Hands’ in London and learned more about Alex’s vision for an ethical, timeless outdoor clothing brand. Everything I have heard and seen since, delivers that vision and am proud to be a Friend of FINDRA!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Best piece of advice? ‘Everything will be better in the morning’ – this is one of my Mum’s classics and it’s usually right. Even if the situation hasn’t changed my ability to get perspective is always improved by a night’s sleep.
Do you have a motivational or inspirational message you would choose to inspire our followers to get outdoors?
It’s easy to believe that you can’t enjoy the outdoors unless everything is perfect, but it’s simply not true. The reality is that at some point in our lives we will all have differences and obstacles to overcome in getting active. The reality of your outdoor experiences might not be the same as other people’s but they can still be rewarding and fun. I get as much pleasure from a ride with CeCe and my family as I do from riding down a mountainside on my enduro MTB or going long-distance off-road on my Mason. In some ways I get more pleasure because in addition to my own, I see the enjoyment of CeCe and those around me.
Things can be harder with disabilities but I will never let anyone pity CeCe or us. This is the life we have been given, it’s incredible and we love it.
You can find out more about Vicky’s work on her website: www.vickybikes.co.uk.
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Visit Art4All on Facebook.
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