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Exercise & The Power Within
My Will to Survive
Early on, I realised I could do very little to contribute to my survival from a medical perspective - all that stuff was being done to and for me. What I could do was drag myself out of bed and write the best damn life story I could.
The potent force that’s in you, in me, in every newborn baby on the planet had kicked in. I found my ‘will to survive.’
It’s Not About the Bike
Trapped in a hospital bed, my wife brought me a book: ‘It’s Not About The Bike,’ by the controversial figure that is Lance Armstrong. It charts his rise through professional cycling, but also his battle against two aggressive forms of cancer and back to life again via winning the world’s hardest sporting event a record seven times.
My exercise of choice became cycling, full on road riding, middle aged man in Lycra (MAMIL) stuff. Christmas 2016 saw my request for a bike as my main present, for the first time since being a kid, met with laughter and family derision.
It sat unused in the garage over the next month. Bad weather and lack of confidence meant it was the end of January before I chanced a short ride around our local block, a distance of half a mile.
That Saturday afternoon I rode the block five times with lots of breaks to recover in between. I knew instantly I had made a connection with the metal, rubber and hard saddle that forms the structure of the machine.
Over the next few months, rides became 'training' which all got logged in a training diary. I set goals, achieved them and reset. The summer of 2017 was ridden with an enthusiastic desire to improve in every way.
2018 arrived as predicted, however my health wasn’t as good as it had been. A family holiday in the new year saw me unable to get involved as much as I would have liked. I soon received the news I had been dreading: I had relapsed.
The Hospital Became My Gym
But this time, treatment was going to be given to a much leaner, much more motivated and enthusiastic patient.
I was now a cyclist with a life-threatening condition. I knew techniques to inspire the rocky journey. And I was offered the chance to do a revolutionary trial down at UCLH which might just save me.
I found myself back in a room I was very familiar with... a mixture of magnolia and blue paint adorned the walls. The hum and beep of machines and pumps counting down my time as a guest. In the centre was the standard NHS bed, a place I would spend many hours in and around over the next few weeks.
So how was I going to cope with the isolation during yet another hospital stay?
Well what I was going to do was use exercise to create a vibe of personal energy and positivity at what was a critical time in my life. The gym equipment was to be my bed, my chairs, and most exciting of all, the static bike that the staff had been kind enough to drag into the room before I was sealed in!
Only by transporting my mindset to my happy place were the next three weeks going to be possible.
So began a familiar pattern to the exercise regime. Warm up with stretches and wall push ups … sit-ups and crunches on the chairs… all jotted down in my training diary to monitor progress . Then onto the bike, starting off doing a solitary mile … which took around an hour. Then collapse on the bed in an exhausted state, my body struggling to cope with the demands of a bone marrow transplant and exercise regime.
Armstrong is great for quotes. I had a quotes wall set up in my room, which I added to as things got tough, it really inspired me to survive in those days. Work, rest, repeat became my survival mantra.
Back on the Road
On release in September 2018 I was back on the road on a cold, wet Saturday morning, but never felt more alive. The rain was driving in, I was struggling to stay upright but loving the first day of the rest of my life!
I have now been in remission for exactly one year. While life offers no certainty, what I do know is that cycling continues to offer that gateway to the positive life I am leading.
I recently completed my first Century ride: a hundred miles on my bike in just over nine hours. It was done at an organised event known as The Great Nottinghamshire bike ride, with an estimated four thousand other like-minded souls.
The journey was all the sweeter given what had gone before. To be able to sustain those miles was a testament to the perseverance of the human condition –the will to survive at its most acute.
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