Insync Bikes brand ambassador and Olympic BMX rider Shanaze Reade has shared her battles with depression, anxiety and alcohol to inspire others during Mental Health Awareness Week.
Manchester-based Shanaze, who competed for Team GB in the 2008 and 2012 games, at one stage felt like she “didn’t want to be here” after using alcohol to mask how she was feeling when she retired from sport.
Now she believes cycling has assisted in her recovery and has urged others to use exercise to help strengthen their mental health to mark the week, from 18-24 May.
The 31-year-old, also a track cyclist, is two-and-a-half years sober and has just launched a personal training business to use her talents to help others.
She said: “I found that when I got back on the bike, I started feeling better because sport really does help your mental health. I ride twice a day now and it’s the best form of therapy I’ve ever had.”
Shanaze suffered her first panic attack aged 18 while at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, having never suffered with mental health issues before.
“I knew something wasn’t right – my legs went weak – but I didn’t know what was happening, which is what happens when you go through it for the first time,” she said. “I realised afterwards it was the stress and pressure I was under with it being my first Olympics.”
When she didn’t experience the success she had set her sights on, she returned home and sank into a depression. “I felt low, I felt depressed and I didn’t leave my bedroom – it felt like I was in a blackhole,” she said.
She credits family and friends with helping lift her out of the situation she was in, as well as setting herself small goals such as having a shower and going to see friends. “If someone had said to me ‘get back on the bike’, it would have been too big to deal with, it was all about taking small steps,” she said. British Cycling also provided support with her wellbeing and she worked with psychiatrist Steve Peters, author of The Chimp Paradox, on getting her mind well again.
Shanaze’s next battle came following her retirement from cycling three years ago. Having been involved in the sport since childhood, she suddenly found herself wondering what the future held – and that was when she started to drink.
She said: “I didn’t know what direction to go in life – cycling was something I’d done from the age of ten, so to retire from the sport was difficult. I started to use alcohol to mask how I was feeling to the point where I gained a lot of weight and I didn’t want to be here. I was depressed.”
Deciding to seek help, she went to Alcoholics Anonymous and joined the fellowship. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made because it was about more than giving up drink,” she said. “The fellowship helps you unravel your past and face your demons so that you know what to avoid. I haven’t had a drink now for three years.”
She had been one year sober when British Cycling asked her back out of retirement, something she says she needed to do so that she could leave the sport on her terms. She won the women’s team sprint at the National Track Championships in 2019, which she said was a mark of being back to the best version of herself.
Now an advocate of cycling as a force for good, through her work as an ambassador for Insync, she believes sport and staying active is essential for good mental health, especially during such difficult times. Prime minister Boris Johnson predicted cycling was set to experience a ‘golden age’ as the country emerges from lockdown, with families and commuters alike taking to the saddle.
Insync, owned by India’s Hero Cycles, reported strong sales of its family range of bikes particularly around the £160-£300 price bracket as cycling fell under the government’s list of permitted daily activities. Cycling is proven to boost the immune system and improve sensitivity to vaccines, as well as strengthening physical and mental health.
Shanaze said: “Times are tough for many people at the moment and cycling is great for ensuring you take care of your mind as well as your body. I ride twice a day and it’s great to see so many people out riding – I really hope that doesn’t change when we come out of lockdown.”
Through her personal training business, Body Workshop by Shanaze, which will begin with free workouts live on Instagram, she hopes to inspire others. “I’m going to do some online workouts, question and answer sessions and some training drills on Insync bikes that people can do at home,” she said. “You can take your phone to the park or replicate the session at home as best you can, and Insync have some great bikes on offer. It’s so important to be mentally aware. It’s all about being as active as you can to clear your head and I guarantee you’ll finish off feeling much better than when you started.”