Alyssa shared the first steps of her sponsorship journey with Love, Alopecia here
The last 4 months of sponsorship through the AAAF for membership with Studio 360 Cycle, an indoor cycling studio in SA, have been incredible. Cycling at the studio has given me an opportunity to exercise and challenge myself physically without fear of accidentally misplacing my “hair”, which has been a big fear of mine since my alopecia developed. What’s fascinating, though, is that more engaged I’ve been with the sponsorship and the studio, the less my hair (or lack thereof) actually matters…
Studio 360 held a “hustle” challenge a couple of months ago that encouraged people to make goals to push themselves physically. As part of the challenge, I attended 24 classes (of hard-core, sweat-inducing spin) in 28 days. I was forced to make time for this physical activity – for me – prioritising it around work, study and family life. The challenge gave me something positive to focus on and to strive towards. It’s been many years since I’ve really pushed myself physically like this and the boost it gave to my confidence and fitness was incredible. It’s funny what having a physical (achievable) goal can do for your mental health too… I felt focused, determined and in control; characteristics that had somehow slipped away over the preceding 18 months.
Since alopecia first appeared in my life, I’ve been pretty private about it. Applying for this sponsorship and writing about “my alopecia story” were the first times I’d intentionally shared my story beyond my close network. My confidence has slowly grown over the last 12 months, but it’s still not something I’ve felt like shouting from the rooftops. As part of the sponsorship arrangement, I organised an awareness and “give-back” ride through the cycling studio. It was wonderful to see all money raised from the event go directly back to the AAAF, but just as importantly, it provided an opportunity for people to speak openly about alopecia in a bid to normalise it just a little. I’ve become pretty good at hiding my alopecia, initially intentionally and more recently because my new appearance is how I identify with myself, but I stepped out of my comfort zone for a night and had a lot of fun doing so. Donning a silver wig, I spoke publicly for the first time about alopecia; what it is, what it means to those it affects and how we work to overcome the challenges it presents.
Now that other members at the studio know about my alopecia (and, surprise, surprise – don’t think any different of me!) a further weight has fallen from my shoulders because I know it doesn’t matter if I don’t put my eyelashes on for a class, or if my wig slips around a little on my sweaty head. No-one is going to judge me, no-one actually cares (which were terrible fears of mine when everything first started snowballing out of my control). There have been moments when, with sweat pouring down my face and neck from under my silicone wig cap, I’ve been tempted to rip it off and ride bald. I haven’t quite convinced myself to do it yet, but you never know, maybe one day I just might…
In the time since my last check-in, very little has changed. However, this is a wonderful notion as it reflects a sense of normality and routine that has come of both my alopecia and my commitment to improving my fitness.
Throughout this time I’ve been reminded of the importance of exercise in maintaining a sense of self and optimising well-being. It’s increasingly acknowledged that alopecia goes hand-in-hand with a reluctance to take part in exercise, but by no means am I the only member at the cycling studio who has faced challenges over the years. The more involved I’ve become with the studio, the more I’ve learnt about the incredible people around me who’ve made it through far worse than I could ever imagine; be that cancer, debilitating injury or the loss of loved ones. Others still have overcome personal battles with smoking and mental health. The strong, supportive, encouraging community that has grown during the time I’ve had my membership with Studio 360 through the AAAF has been wonderful to be a part of.
As my sponsorship period draws to a close, I’m looking forward to what I can take away from this incredible opportunity. I’ll be taking part in another “hustle” – a 24-class challenge – over the coming month and my aim will be to maintain my achievements through to the end of my sponsorship period. As my focus then shifts heavily to studying, I know that I’ll be so much better for the physical strength, the mental resilience and the sense of self-acceptance that has been afforded to me through this sponsorship.