Sarah (Neuro with Cognitive Science 2018) is a former Students’ Union Women’s Officer and Trustee who took on an epic challenge to cycle solo across the United States.
After completing an undergraduate degree in Neuro with Cognitive Science, Sarah took on an active role in the Students’ Union. Before starting her next degree, in Medicine, Sarah cycled across America solo, covering 4,990 miles in 49 days, and traversing the Appalachian Mountains, the Rockies, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton.
What made you choose Sussex?
Sussex was unique in its combination of brilliant location and ethos. I wanted to study against a beautiful landscape with people who were passionate about making change.
Favourite spot-on campus?
Climbing up behind Northfield for sunset will always be a special memory for me. But spending time in Room 76 with a slice of vegan cake and bumping into endless friendly faces while doing assignments is what I really miss about being on campus.
What did you enjoy most about your degree?
I loved that my degree was so much more than lectures and essays.There were chances to study philosophy in New York over the summer, and present at international conferences!
Tell us more about your role in the Students' Union as Women’s Officer and Trustee.
Getting involved in the SU was brilliant. The people I got to collaborate with, the students I met, and experience I gained have shaped the way I handle life. As Women’s Officer I continued Free Wednesdays, with free period products, contraception, and drug testing kits. I also brought Free Wednesdays to lecture halls, and helped bring students together for International Women’s Day, Reclaim the Streets, and campaigns which centred on wellbeing and education.
As Trustee, my role was less visible, but felt more lasting in its impact with discussions on funding and policy decisions. Seeing the inner workings of the SU, the University, and their relationship, showed challenges which I hadn’t considered as a student, and taught me the activism I cared so deeply about was more complex than our catchy chants for change, but still achievable.
You’ve completed an incredible solo cycling trip across America, raising money for charity. What made you decide to take on the challenge?
It felt like the right thing to do. Cycle commuting to university gave me time to process and a sense of freedom. Since Rape Crisis England & Wales had recently supported me, I wanted to raise awareness for their work. I wanted to complete the challenge solo, to show that survivors of sexual violence are strong individuals, and that as women we must not live in fear.
The process of preparing is just as (if not more important) than the challenge itself – 'plan for the worst but hope for the best' was something I held in mind."
How did you prepare both mentally and physically for the challenge?
I had never done anything like this before, so preparing meant not just physical training but also bringing together all the right equipment for a bike ride this long. In terms of fitness, I started most work days with strength and interval sessions in the gym, and squeezed a lunchtime ride in. Weekends were for long rides and rest. Friends and family helped piece together pannier bags, while Temple Cycles sponsored me with a bike, IRIS and Fat Lad at The Back with kit, and Firepot with delicious meals.
I had to prepare for the mental challenge of cycling alone across the diverse landscape of the US. Having a solid plan for worst-case scenarios, investing in my relationships, and taking bike workshops all helped foster a sense of capability.
What were your favourite places en route?
In terms of which state, Wyoming, unexpectedly. It was largely untouched by people, with overwhelmingly beautiful geology and vistas. The few folks I did meet were kind, and appreciative of their lives. But the places that made the trip truly exhilarating were the big climbs and consequent descents. Hoosier Pass, Three Sisters, and Snake River Canyon took hours to climb, but the 15 minutes that followed tearing through barren stone, alpine forest, and reaching fecund riverside roads as breathless altitudes were replaced with easy 40mph speeds was brilliant.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of taking on a challenge like this?
- Ask for help! The challenge itself is hard enough, so make the planning easier by reaching out to experts. In doing so, much of my equipment was sponsored, I met some inspiring people who are shaping my career going forwards, and I learnt invaluable skills (like how to change a gear cable and index gears in the middle of nowhere).
- The process of preparing is just as (if not more important) than the challenge itself – 'plan for the worst but hope for the best' was something I held in mind. During something like this, pace yourself and find fun in the process. I had expected, almost hoped, that cycling across America would break me somehow, but instead I finished 11 days early by finding small moments of fun and taking each challenge as it came.
- A little website and bunch of business cards helps a lot!
What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back and start university again?
You don’t need to be friends with everyone, you can’t be friends with everyone. Still be kind to everyone, but be comfortable learning from mistakes and letting go of folks who aren’t your tribe.
With so many opportunities there are at Sussex, keep saying yes. Especially when you doubt that you’re good enough for them. The failures will make you stronger and the successes will make your self-perception more realistic.
Tell us more about the charity you are raising money for.
Rape Crisis England & Wales provide specialist information and support to all those affected by rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and all other forms of sexual violence and abuse. As the membership body for 39 Rape Crisis centres, they work in partnership with their members to transform attitudes to sexual violence and abuse, improve responses to all victims and survivors, and end all forms of sexual violence.
Their work is necessary and in high demand. More than 14,000 people are waiting for the support I received, and their confidential helpline is accessible 24/7.