“My name is Aliya Merali. I have been cycling since I was a child. I grew up in Kenya and have memories cycling with my brother and sister”

My name is Aliya Merali. I have been cycling since I was a child. I grew up in Kenya and have memories cycling with my brother and sister.
I was also born with a hearing impairment. At that time in Kenya in the 1980s, it was unheard of. When my mother noticed that I wasn’t talking at the age of 3, she took me to many doctors but they tried to reassure her that nothing was wrong but my mother knew that something was not right. Finally she took me to one doctor who explained that I had a hearing impairment. My mother took me to America and London and the professionals told her that I would never speak due to being diagnosed very late. My mother refused to believe them and with her staunch faith in God she resolved to help me speak and give me the confidence. Alhamdullilah with Gods help and my mother’s determination  I learnt how to speak and trained to listen with the help of the hearing aids. I was very fortunate that I grew up in a very encouraging family. They encouraged me to get exposed, to cycle, do adventurous sports and travel around the world. When I was 18, with my family’s encouragement I went on a camping and cycling safari in Kenya  with the school. This was the beginning of my adventures. I remember before coming to the UK to pursue my studies, my parents sat me down and I will never forget my father’s words when he encouraged me to travel around the world and get exposed and my mother reiterated the importance of maintaining my faith in God and maintaining Islamic values wherever I go. My brother and sister always supported me and encouraged me throughout my journey. I am very grateful to have grown up in an encouraging family.
So I did travel and did a lot of backpacking. I also cycled wherever I went. In university I cycled everywhere. I have lived in different countries. In a tiny village in Canada I remember being the only Muslim woman in hijab cycling around. In Spain I used to teach English and would cycle to my students houses. It was also around that time when I was living in Spain, AbuSami supported me to get a cochlear implant. I will never forget the day that I heard birds chirping and kept asking AbuSami what the new sounds were that I was hearing.
When I moved to London four years ago I met up with Fatim my adventurous buddy and she kindly lent me her bike to get started and gave me cycling tips. Around that time I met up with Iffat and this was when our friendship and journey started. We started our cycling adventures together  and we used to have conversations about inspiring sisters to ride and this was when our SJ cycling journey started. Iffat and I trained as Breeze champions to lead our sisters. It has been a rewarding and also a challenging experience. We have had to face a lot of hurdles to inspire our sisters to cycle.
What I have loved about this journey is to coach women to develop confidence in cycling. It has been so rewarding to see our sisters become confident cycling the past few months.
With Iffat’s and other lovely sisters encouragement, I am now working on getting my coaching qualification to help sisters develop confidence in cycling.
Iffat and I are so excited about the sportive ride. It’s the first time that our ladies from the community are participating in this sportive ride and we are both looking forward to it!