|Motivation Corner near Nailsea, North Somerset March 2016.|
The 50th birthday is a cliché. I am writing that in a deliberate third person detached way. I did not want to be 50, I feel like I'm 19 1/2 still, but less responsible than I was back then. But we are both now 50, Steve and I have been together since we met as 19yo students. We have 3 great daughters, all now over 18. We are very lucky.
So I have set myself a challenge. I started commuting by bike in a new county when we moved to Somerset (from Gloucestershire) in early 2013. I needed to lose weight and get fitter after years of semi immobility and a resulting knee replacement in my early 40s. I was very active in my teens and twenties; sailing, skiing (hence the knee problem) mountaineering, camping and a general lover of the outdoors.
I was going to join the posh gym but a bike is only the price of three months gym membership. I am still riding my faithful hybrid "Gert" three years later. She has paid for herself many times over, financially and figuratively speaking. She got me hooked on cycling. I ride therefore I am a cyclist. No ifs no buts, doesn't matter how old/young, fast or slow, cool kit or ancient rust bucket. Anyone who rides a bike should be celebrated for their achievements.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014. I discovered the cycling app Strava, met a couple of other cyclists through the fabulous resource of twitter and social media We took our bikes for a long weekend to Bala in North Wales. I entered us for our first sportive. an Evans Ride It 115km starting in Wells and including the iconic Cheddar Gorge. Our first ascent of the gorge. I did it on my hybrid Gert, a good 1000m of ascent too, I know I got laughed at by the trendy "roadies" and unfortunately I crashed and burned 20m from the end on a cobbled rumble strip and bust my ribs. An evening in A&E ensued. The following week, somehow, I managed to fly to Thailand for a long anticipated two week 'active' holiday. Once my knees healed I managed some snorkelling, but no cycling. The food was good!
After our holiday in October 2014 I bought my roadie, Doris. We rode to Wells to visit the Christmas Market in December. My ribs were still quite sore! Doris felt strange, more of a thoroughbred to be tamed than my solid pony Gert.
Over Christmas I procrastinated, I had been working hard on getting my speeds up so that I could ride with others. Roadies go fast, 25km/h seemed normal from Strava research. I needed to be well over 20km/h I felt, to not be an embarrassment to myself, I was not fast enough. I decided to go for it and went along for my first club ride with Backwell Road Cycling Club BRCC). A lovely informal club. That was Sunday 4th January 2015. A 100km outing to Wales starting from Backwell in North Somerset. "If I got left behind I will never go again" I said. They were nice and encouraging and didn't leave me behind. There were lots of firsts. Cycling over the Severn Bridge to Chepstow, Conquering Belmont Hill and Portbury Slog as I call it. Riding with more than one other person. Riding round the block to make the ride up to 100km...yes I did! I was on a high.
Later that same night Steve was taken ill, he had been on the golf course all day and was his usual self, fit and well up to that point, 49 years old. Not "that" ill but ill enough for me to be concerned. I rang NHS Direct at 11pm. At 5am he was wheeled into surgery for emergency life saving cardiac surgery, by a specialist team called in at the end of the New Year Bank Holiday weekend, having been diagnosed with an acute ascending aortic dissection, Type A. This is a very rare cardiac condition that we had never heard of before either. No history of high blood pressure, no other chronic health concerns, healthy lifestyle, not overweight (well a couple of pounds but who isn't?) We now know that less than 10% survive, mainly because diagnosis is not easy, and even if it is diagnosed a specialist cardiac surgeon with the skills and experience to operate are also few and far between. We were lucky that the Bristol Heart Institute was next door to Bristol Royal Infirmary A&E where he was taken. I swear the registrars that night had been up for 4 days, I am sure one had odd shoes on. They were efficient, kind, professional and amazing. They diagnosed a rare condition and acted swiftly to save Steve's life. I will not start a political rant, but without a 24 hour 7 day a week NHS Steve would not have survived.
His surgeon, Alan Bryan, rang me at midday on Monday 5th January 2015. The operation had gone as well as it could. Since every landmark has pretty much been as good as it gets. He has recovered remarkably well. Back at work after 2 months and riding his bike again. The first 15km ride to Bristol Harbourside in March was just so good. He does have to be "careful" No extreme "explosive activity" like scuba diving or squash. Obviously it is harder for him, but he has played his best ever round of golf in the past 12 months, and completed a 100km bike ride on Ile de Ré last summer. No thrashing up hills allowed, but taking it steadily is fine.
So now I want to give something back. Hence my "I heart cycling 2016 challenge". Selfishly involving my hobby. Raising money for specific training of specialist cardiac surgeons into the aortic grafting technique that Mr Bryan and his fully trained team carried out that night. Heart Research UK are organising these, but each two day course for 20 surgeons costs £25000 I also want to help towards raising awareness of aortic dissection so more people are diagnosed and treated before it is too late.