OVERCOMING DISABILITY - HELEN'S STORY
I grew up bike crazy. My father wouldn't let me ride one after falling off my brother's machine. I was eight at the time. But whenever my father wasn't around I took every chance to ride one. Cycling was in my blood, and nothing would ever change that. Once I started work it was inevitable I would buy my own. My grandfather realised my love of cycling and suggested my mother speak to my uncle Freddie and find out about the Manchester Velo Cycling Club. My uncle was a founder member and its first meeting was in my grandfather's attic at Kirkmanshulme Lane, Manchester.
Before long I was club secretary. In 1981 I was presented with the merit award along with the BCF Cup for recruiting the most members to the BCF that year.
After that things went downhill. I'd just bought my dream bike for £450. The frame was perfect and I hand picked all the accessories. I didn't pedal it, I flew it. It really was my dream bike and I planned to start time trialing. That is until I became ill overnight.
Sharing anecdotes with Ronnie Burnley from Doncaster. Ten years ago, when aged 48 years, Ronnie had major heart surgery. Cycling has given him a new life.
My knees became painful and swollen. Doctors told me to keep off the bike for a while till the swelling went down. Even so, the outlook wasn't good. The fluid in my knees dried up and cycling would only aggravate things.. One surgeon offered to operate. I was on an NHS waiting list at the age of seventeen. Years passed without anything happening. I was advised not to go under the knife, and three doctors told me if I did I wouldn't walk again.
My condition was genetic. My kneecaps are too small for my knees with no fluid in the joints; and together with muscle wastage, there were other complications as well. The future wasn't looking good. I gave up cycling all together when I was 19. But it was years before I could bring myself to sell my dream bike.
I continued to be as active as I could for as long as I could. Walking became my hobby, and in the years that followed I walked all over Kinder and other areas in Derbyshire. I had to endure much abuse about the way I walked. My limp became pronounced with time, and people became ever more cruel. Even so I carried on as best I could until a bad fall put me in a wheelchair at the age of 35. I had always known I'd end up in a wheelchair, I just didn't expect it to be so soon.
My young family moved to Rhyl before I became disabled. My late husband, Trevor, was driving the car one day when I spotted a young man cycling with the use of a hand propelled adapter fitted to the front of his wheelchair. From that point on I decided I wanted one of those. It was to be a few years later, after Trevor died, that I managed to discover where the young man, Martin, had bought the device. I surfed the internet and found out about the different places available to buy it from, and made my choice - Davinci, based in Liverpool.
Sixteen hundred pounds is a lot of money to spend, so I wanted to make sure I bought the right one for me. I was never content to rely just on a wheelchair. It's harder work than anybody can imagine, especially if you have the wrong type like I obviously had.
It was only after buying my Davinci and being able to get out more, that I started meeting more people in the same position as myself. One young man, Mick, told me he was able to get a new wheelchair from the NHS, a Quickie that would make my cycling days even more enjoyable. I'm now waiting to take delivery of my new chair. Having bought the bike though, I wanted to do some good with it. You can't buy something like this and not put it to good use.
My disability hasn't gone away, but when I'm on my bike people don't see the disability, just the bike. I'm always being stopped and asked about it. Why have I got a bike like this? Where did I get it? Did I get help buying it ? The questions are endless. For me, being able to ride a bike again is like having my life returned to me. All I've ever wanted to do is cycle. The bonus is, with this bike and the interest it's created, I'm able to do charity work just riding my bike around. People and businesses have been willing to sponsor me.
On my first fund raising event I raised £1,029.05 for Leukaemia Research. I completed a 20 miles bikeathon around Llyn Brenig. I was really touched by the 5p from the little girl next door. I received two medals as well. One for the money I raised, and one for completing the course.
Next year I shall be back on the starting line only this time half the money I raise is to go to the Glan Clwyd Cancer Unit at Bodelwydden where my late husband Trevor was treated. The one person I would really like to present the cheque to is a nurse called Karen. I don't know her surname but she was the nurse who took care of my husband in chemotherapy. Maybe they could trace her if she no longer works in that department?
For present I am just taking each day as it comes. Whenever I can, I get out on my Davinci. I've found new friends with the CTC crowd that meets for lunch every Wednesday at Pensarn. And to cap it all I've just managed to push to the top of Oxygen Hill at Llanddulas. Now they're things to be really chuffed about !
See also the 'Overcoming Disability' section in Cycle Life.