Gratitude

Whilst 2105 has been a pretty successful sporting year for me as you can see from all the trophies and medals below, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many individuals, friends and supporters, sponsors and businesses, who have supported me on my journey in para-sport.

Medals and trophies 2015.jpgThanks go to:

Fogarty, Master Quilt and Pillow Makers, http://www.fogarty.co.uk/blog/fridays-news who provided ‘Viva’ the VW, fully customized to fit my hand bike, plus two dogs and camping gear for my two month trek around Europe this summer. I’m still getting used to seeing my name on the side of her and am looking forward to more adventures!

Mammoth Mattress http://mammothmattress.co.uk/category/elite-athletes/ who kindly supplied a custom made memory foam mattress for ‘Viva’ to make sure I had adequate sleep recovery in-between my races.

Alfred Bekker http://alfredbekker.com/product-range/hand-controls-for-disabled-drivers/# who converted the van with hand controls that allowed me to cruise along the Autobahns and motorways of Europe in comfort.

KitBrix http://www.kitbrix.co.uk whose bags do a sterling job of keeping all my cycling stuff well organized in the confines of ‘Viva’.

The Arctic One Foundation http://www.arctic1.co.uk who provided me with a small cash grant which paid for my EuroTunnel fare to Europe to compete this year.

Challenged Athlete Foundation http://www.challengedathletes.org/site/c.4nJHJQPqEiKUE/b.6449023/k.BD6D/Home.htm whose training grant allowed me to pay for a cycling coach so I could train and prepare better.

The University of Lincoln http://lincoln.ac.uk/home/media/universityoflincoln/schoolofsportandexercisescience/UoL-Sport-2015.pdf for providing Sports Science support-it’s been an interesting journey so far!

My 5,000+ Twitter followers! The support, jokes, concern, sympathy, friendship and valuable contacts has been unending and I thank you.

To all the people I met in Europe who helped me with dog-sitting, tent erecting, laundry, food, meals, campsites, shopping, doctors, friendship, swimming, directions, training and more!

To my children, George and Rebecca, who helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel after my sci accident and are my most steadfast supporters, I love you more than…

And lastly, to my late best friend Micky Greenwood, who taught me so much about how to live life well and enjoy every moment you are given x
I wish you all have a peaceful, happy and prosperous 2016

 

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Highs and Lows-2015

I can’t believe that Winter has arrived so quickly after a protracted mild Autumn. I am in semi-hibernation mode now, only venturing outdoors for long, cold, often wet and usually windy bike rides. I know that getting the Base miles in over the winter is crucial to success next season. Afterwards I retreat to my sofa and my laptop, filling in my training on Strava, my diet on MyFitnessPal and emailing my Coach.

My race season this year started in sunny Abu Dhabi in March and ended in fascinating Beirut only two weeks ago! I trained in Portugal, Spain and Belgium, travelled to 10 different Countries and crashed badly in two races. I won 7 Golds and 2 Silvers in the European Handcycle Circuit (EHC) to finally take the overall Champions jersey in the series. I competed in four UCI C1 competitions, winning six Gold and two Silvers. I raced as an Independent at two UCI Para-cycling World Cups in Italy and Switzerland, finishing 6th, 4th, 5th and 5th. My UCI world ranking is 7th in the world this year.

I spent 10 weeks away from home driving solo over 10,000 miles across Europe and camping in a tent, then a van, accompanied by my two dogs Monty and Smudge. I was ‘living the dream’ according to friends, doing the Grand Tour I’d always dreamed about. In the middle of my travels, my best friend died suddenly. Thirty years of friendship-gone in an instant. Competing in para-cycling races just didn’t seem important anymore, nor did a world ranking, or even Blogging about my summer adventures. It would be two months before I’d enter another race.

So, with a bit of perspective since the event and my best friend’s motto-‘Do what makes you happy’- ringing in my ears, I have two main aims for next year. One is to be selected for a place on the National Team and potentially compete in the Rio Paralympics. To achieve this, I need to train harder than I’ve ever trained before, as the selection criteria from my NGB is to be a consistent Gold medallist at World Cup level.

The other is to raise enough sponsorship to to replace my three year old badly damaged race bike and enable me to travel to major competitions.

Neither are going to be easy tasks, but I’ve come this far…

“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.”
Michael Phelps

UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup, Segovia

Segovia Road Race start

Segovia Road Race start

After the World Cup in Italy in May, my Coach Bryan Steel and I reviewed my training with an emphasis on improving my performance specifically in the Time Trial. Coming from a background of competing Internationally in Paratriathlon, which only involves a 20km bike section in the Sprint distance, my speed endurance was not sufficient for up to 48km of fast racing in this World Cup.

I had to negotiate getting down to London with all my equipment as I had no car, plan where to stay and also how to get to the race venue, as the UCI decided this year to only provide transportation to and from the official race Hotel for National Teams. I also needed to get to the official Hotel to register, collect my numbers and timing chip. I faced yet another complicated solo journey, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the adventure that followed!

I caught a National Express Coach down to Heathrow having used my accumulated Airmiles from the past four years of competing around the world for a free Business flight with British Airways to Madrid. I arrived to find my race bike had been left in London, despite having been marked ‘Priority’ when checking in, due to Baggage Handlers disputes. By the time I had put in a claim, I had missed the last train to Segovia, so had to book a Hotel for the night. Normally, I put all my clothes and medical supplies in with my bike, but had the luxury of two free bags with my flight-my bike and a double wheel bag-so had opted for hand luggage which fortunately contained overnight things!

I had time to research my options to get to the official Hotel in time for race registration and briefing the next day so sent an urgent email to the UCI organisers in case everything didn’t work out. I took a Taxi from the Hotel to a Coach station in Madrid the next morning and helped by the kind driver, found the bus to Los Angeles de San Rafael. I was lucky to discover a fellow passenger Diego was a race volunteer and his wife was picking him up from the station and she kindly offered me a lift to the Hotel. I made it just in time for registration, and was given dispensation for not being able to show my race uniform, which was still in my missing bike bag. The afternoon was spent frantically trying to contact British Airways and praying that my bike would be delivered in time for me to build it for the Time Trial in the morning.

The race venue was a further 86km from the Hotel in Cuellar, near to Segovia. Diego picked me up in a van full of race equipment after chip allocation in the evening. I was all registered and ready for my second World Cup, but my bike was not. It was worrying having spent money getting to Spain and time training. An enforced rest of three days had not been part of my plan either.

It was a lovely surprise to find friends from the Italy at the my small Hotel in Cuellar, but I was overjoyed to find my bike had been delivered! I worked late into the night to rebuild and race prep it, with the Italians helping out when they returned from their meal. I would have to ride and check my bike just before my race the next morning, not ideal as there was no time to fix anything that might be wrong.

The hotel was a short, but steep, ride away from the race start. I set off up a hill at some lights and suddenly stopped with my right leg going into severe spasms. Looking down, I could see my shoe was caught in the front cassette. An Italian friend came running to help me remove it, as I was stuck in the middle of traffic. I had no time to stop and look at my foot as I had to warm up on the road, ready for my Time Trial. The TT went well, with a new PB and hitting my goal average speed, but my leg continued to spasm throughout, making it hard to concentrate and keep the bike straight. I found the race Doctor whilst still in my bike, who strapped up my foot and gave me painkillers, which I found amusing as I have no pain or temperature sensation from the knees down. I knew it must hurt from the amount of spasms I was getting.

The next day my foot, ankle and leg were black and blue, and the swelling was so severe I could not get my race shoes on. I also could not bear any weight on my leg, which made transferring in and out of my bike and wheelchair extremely difficult. I was plagued by severe spasms throughout the Road Race and despite initially staying with the leaders, I soon fell back. The TT had only been 22 minutes in the 38 degree heat, but the RR was 36km- thankfully reduced by the organisers from 48km due to the tmperature-but with a steep, cobbled hill in each lap. I have a limited sweat response due to my C7 sci and I was lucky to have kind members of rival competitor teams douse me with water on each of three climbs which made it more bearable.

I was taken under the wing of the Italian Independent Team staying at my Hotel, taken for meals out and all the way back to a Hotel near Madrid Airport, ready for my flight home the next day. The flight back was delayed and I missed the only Coach home, but British Airways came up trumps, arranging a door-to-door Taxi at their expense. I then got a local Taxi straight to A&E to have my foot and lower leg x-rayed in case anything was broken, but lucky it was just a bad sprain. I got an ambulance ride home at 2am!

I’m so lucky to have the support and friendship of so many people in the Para-cycling community and blessed by Guardian Angels who seem to appear at just the right moments to sort my logistical nightmares out!Segovia Italians

UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup Italy-May 2014

Despite not knowing a word of Italian, I embarked on a solo trip encumbered as usual by my hand bike, a wheel bag, a suitcase, a rucksack and a wheelchair, this time to Castiglione della Pescaia in Italy for the first World Cup on the para-cycling calendar. I booked a holiday apartment in a camp site thinking I could ride to the race venue and Facebook-ed a plea for help in how to get from Rome to Castiglione.

My journey proper started with a coach transfer from the Airport to the main Railway Station in Rome, where fortunately various lovely random people offered their help to get my ticket and shift my luggage, I even acquired a rather handy Italian phrasebook from an American couple. Unfortunately, I was unaware that assistance needed to be booked 12 hours in advance and this caused much gesticulating and harsh sounding phone calls at the Sale Blu office before help could be arranged. After a couple of hours waiting, I was loaded onto the slow train to Grossetto via a kind of golf cart lift, as the trains are two stories high. I eventually arrived late at night to my accommodation via a further 25km taxi ride.

Whilst training on the road the next day, Andrey Ri, a Russian hand cyclist who had replied to my plea for help, stopped and spoke to me. We arranged to meet for training and he also took me to Registration and the official Team Hotel where the British cycling guys were, so that I could give them my uniform for approval and my race licence. I was also blessed with meeting a lovely Austrian couple with their toddler who drove me and my bike into the race venue each day.

On race day, I parked my kit next to the official GB tent and went off to warm-up, only to find the road closed. Mildly panicked, I was kindly offered a British Cycling turbo to use, then it was lining up and the bike check and straight onto the start ramp. Whilst the TT was on a flat course, the road surface was not ideal and the turns were tight and technical at the start, turnaround and finish. I’d decided to pace myself over the 15km, but was disappointed with both my average speed and Watts, although I came 5th.

The RR the next day was around the Town and rumours had spread about crashes and how dangerous it was, being both fast and technical. My race started badly, with a crowded, chaotic start in a narrow side street. I knew as soon as I started it would be a solo effort with nobody to draft. I had to set my GPS during the race and then my water bottle split and dragged along the ground. I stopped twice for help from Marshals and eventually pulled the drinking tube free and ditched it. I had a gel thinking at least that would give me some much needed fluid over the 57km race. I then fought hard to regain my position and finished 5th.

As it turned out, I was lucky, as Karen Darke (H3) crashed out of her race, breaking her nose. One of my competitors, Silke Pan crashed into a wall, with the Korean H4 girl snapping her hand crank clean off her Carbon.ch bike! She still finished the race in third place!

CAF Grant received!

So, so pleased to receive a Challenged Athlete Foundation Grant @CAFoundation this year towards my Hand cycling coaching/training costs! I’m now motivated to train hard and keep my dream of competing in Rio alive!
Thank you so much to all the supporters/fundraisers who made my grant possible #CAFChangesLives

Winter training in South Africa!

Mosselberg on the Indian Ocean

Mosselbaai on the Indian Ocean

Most hand cyclists I know disappear off to Lanzorote for a few weeks of winter training, but I like to be different!
I met Hilary Lewis, organiser of the Toer de Kaap (TDK), at my first UCI World Cup in Segovia last year and she managed to talk me into giving the hand cycle event an attempt. I didn’t know at the time I booked that she has only completed the entire tour once and Hilary thrives on tough challenges!
It seemed sensible to stay on in South Africa and visit relatives in Cape Town afterwards and then of course, it was just the right timing to do the beautiful Argus Cycle Tour. I love how they describe it as a tour, when in fact it is a cruelling 109km with 1340m elevation.
It turned out that the TDK was extremely good training for the Argus, despite suffering in the 39 degree heat and having to be doused with cold water virtually every half hour by our lovely support drivers. I did 386.7km, with 4,129m elevation in 29:37:00 over the six days of the tour, and was 170.3km short of completing. Perhaps living and training in Lincolnshire was my downfall! Actually, I’m very proud of my achievement, as I massively increased both my weekly miles and hours and am not fazed by climbing any more!
So, a few ‘easy’ weeks followed, staying at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport http://www.sastraining.co.za and training with beautiful views of vineyards and mountains.
Then it was onto Cape Town to stay with my Aunt and visit my cousin and his baby daughter and relatives. My cousin Craig is attempting the Robben Island swim in April and he was keen to show this ex-triathlete the beautiful Bays of Cape Town. Armed with my trusty Huub wetsuit, I braved the 14 degree water, feeling decidedly wimpy compared to the cozzy only clad swimmers. It did cross my mind that I would definitely look more seal like in my rubber suit and hence potentially appetising to any passing Great Whites…I kept my face in the water far more than I usually do!
I was lucky that Craig had a big new family car to take me and my bike to the bottom of the two last climbs on the Argus, so I was able to practice Suikerbosse and Chapman’s Peak before race day. Each single climb was not difficult, but they would come when I’d already completed over 80km, so it was nice to feel mentally prepared.
I was also delighted to be ‘kidnapped’ by Delia, who I had met in George before the TDK, and her husband Johann, both hand cyclists,and taken to Melkbosstrand, so that I could train somewhere flatter than the side of Table Mountain. They were incredibly generous and wonderful people, to the extent that Johann was up at 4am race morning to drive me to the start, having prepped my bike the night before.
There were 28 recumbents in our start group, with just over 20 being hand cyclists, although only two women. Unfortunately, we had a South Easterly wind for the first 50km of the race but the scenery was a good distraction. I rode with Brunhild, a South African hand cyclist, sharing the load and motivating each other on, until about 30km to go when I seemed to get a second wind and picked up the pace.
I completed the Argus in 07:09:04, the first official female handcyclist to finish. What a fantastic way to end my wonderful month in South Africa. Now it’s all about training to race!

Newbie Para-Cyclist

Sophie and I lining up in hand bikes on my path

Sophie and I lining up in hand bikes on my path

Sophie and I have been competing at Disability Swimming competitions as part of the East Midlands Squad for several years now and I have been encouraging her to give ParaTriathlon a go. She attended a British Triathlon Federation Talent Day in March but was keen to try out a hand bike for the first time, since none were available in Loughborough.

Luckily, Sophie is petite like me and she slotted neatly into my race bike with no problems. I decided it would be cruel to put her in my old second hand 20.4kg Force R, so the Force RX at 12kg was the only option.

With Sophie’s mum off on my son’s road bike for a jaunt round Lincolnshire’s lanes, we set off on our own adventure. This was Sophie’s first EVER bike ride, as her severe CP has meant she has not even been able to ride a trike.

It was lovely to be able to introduce Sophie to hand cycling and the smile on her face was wonderful to see. I understood her fears on the road as she has never been on a bike before and has only just passed her driving test. We stuck to a quiet route and she managed over 11km on her first attempt, 7km more than I did 🙂

Now of course, she starts the difficult road to finding funding for all the expensive adaptive equipment she will need to compete in ParaTriathlon, but I have a plan up my sleeve to help her…

Para-cycling Road UCI World Cup Sergovia

Pep talk before the TT

Pep talk before the TT

It was with trepidation that I travelled to Spain to compete in another UCI Para-cycling World Cup this time against the worlds top female hand cyclists, all of whom had competed in London 2012 Paralympics. To be able to compete Internationally in Para-cycling required me classified again and my appointment had been allocated a few days prior to the competition which meant I had time to do a few training rides in the sunshine.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account the topography of the area where the official Hotel was situated and my ‘easy’ ride turned into a bit of a nightmare, especially when my gears failed on the long climb back. A UCI official Jose Aurelio, kindly stopped after seeing me stuck on the side of the road. I was fortunate that the South African Team Mechanic was able to fix the problem.

As I was classed as an ‘Independent’ and not part of the official funded GB team, I relied on the organised transport to get me to the race site, about an hour away. The Time Trial was a flat and fast out and back course with one steep bridge. I was seeded first as the slowest competitor and we set off down the start ramp in two minute intervals. It was hard to gauge my effort with nobody to chase down in front, but Rachel Morris overtook me after the halfway point, with the others swiftly following. My lack of an opportunity to navigate the course beforehand meant I was unprepared for where the turnaround was and how to tackle it.

Fortunately, I have met Mark Rohan, an Irish Paralympian, at other races, and his friends Anne and David Hadfield where only too happy to drive me round the course for the next day’s Road race course so I was more prepared for the tight turns, speed bumps and steep cobbled section repeated over three laps totalling 36km.

The Road Race was a bunched start and I had hoped to be near to Rachel to at least draft for the first of three laps, but I was placed way back in the pack. I had not realised the mixed category and gender race meant I could draft anyone, as usually we can only draft within our own categories, indicated by helmet colours, and did the entire race as a solo time trial.

I finished fifth in both the TT and RR, and was pleasantly surprised to be ranked joint first in the UCI world rankings afterwards!