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accident occurred whilst cycling, one of my favourite sporting pursuits.
There is a yearly London to Brighton cycle ride. The distance is 50
Miles, I completed that ride several times before my accident raising money
for charity. I thought it would be a great challenge to attempt the same route
in my powered wheelchair.
I wanted publicity for the event to raise awareness of spinal cord injury.
I also wanted to raise some money for the Spinal
Injuries Association, a UK charity that provide practical advice and
support needed to get on with your life after a spinal cord injury. They
were a great source of support and information for me when I left hospital
after my accident.
The attempt wouldn't have been possible
without the very generous provision of equipment and personnel from my two main
Supplied an Invacare 'Storm' powered wheelchair for my use (worth £6000). They also
provided a fully equipped repair van and two wheelchair technicians to change
batteries and keep the chair roadworthy.
Croydon very kindly gave me the use of a Renault Espace as a support
vehicle, this was used to carry my support team, clothing and food and drink required for the
journey. It also also allowed us all travel home afterwards in one
The Journey Begins
My good friend
Deane and his partner, Marja cycled the route with alongside me. Deane is
an incomplete paraplegic (T 7,8 & 9) after a nasty motorcycling accident in
1992. My girlfriend Sally and
my good friends Mick and Jane came along to to help me, Mick drove the Renault
Espace and the girls helped me and also collected money on route.
Click here to see pictures from the day
had been watching the weather forecast all week, the weathermen had forecasted a
cool day with heavy thundery showers. Unfortunately for us this time they
got it just right!
The route we used was similar to the one used by the
London to Brighton Cycle
Ride. The cycle ride was taking place the next day and the route was
already sign posted which was helpful.
We left my home town of Croydon at 7.45am on Saturday the 16th
of June 2001, the skies looked very threatening, after about 20 minutes on
the road it started to rain very heavily. We had only reached Purley, I stopped
quickly and was helped into my wet weather clothing, it was clear that this rain
was going to penetrate the clothing I had so my support team improvised, I
was soon wearing a large plastic bag with a hole cut into the top for my head,
the bag covered me and the chair. I wore a plastic carrier bag on each
foot to keep the rain out. I must have looked really comical but at least
it was keeping me dry. Deane and Marja were both soaked to the
The Storm wheelchair has a top speed of 6mph and by my calculation the journey
was going to take at least 10 hours. At this point I was starting to think
I might have been too ambitious with the distance I had chosen. We had
only traveled 2 miles and I was already tired, cold and wet.
The rain continued for the next few miles, we were now on the A23 road which
goes directly to Brighton, plenty of cars were tooting there horns and giving
support. The A23 is a busy road and mostly dual carriageway. It
would have been dangerous to try and use this road for the whole route
After about an hour and 6 miles into the journey we left the A23 and joined the
country roads towards Nutfield and Smallfield. The rain had got a bit
lighter and I was enjoying the freedom the wheelchair gave me. It was nice
to see the fields and countryside in the company of good friends again. It
reminded me of my cycling before my accident in '94. We had our first
scheduled stop just before Nutfield. Luckily a refreshment tent for the
bike ride had already been put up in a field next to the road. We were
soon all in there drinking, eating and discussing the rest of the journey.
After 20 minutes or so we were back on the move, the country lanes wind around
some lovely countryside and the hills aren't too steep either. The rain
even stopped and the sun tried to come out. The Ashdale Healthcare van
followed close behind me so that I wasn't in too much danger from other
traffic. Deane and Marja had got very wet and cold so they pressed on
ahead towards Turners Hill. About 2 miles before Turners Hill the battery
power on my chair started to fade so we stopped to change them over. As I
left with a freshly charged chair the heavens opened once again and the rain
came down torrentially. I wheeled up to the Crown Pub at the top of Turner's
Hill, where we met up again with Deane and Marja. We stopped for a quick
lunch and a very welcome cup of coffee. It was nice to be inside and out
of the rain. We estimated that we were about halfway into our journey.
Fortunately the rain was lighter after lunch and it was quite mild as
well. We continued through the Sussex countryside, passing through the
towns of Haywards Heath, and Burgess Hill. I was looking forward to seeing
the South Downs rising up in front of me, I knew then that Brighton would only
be few miles away. As we reached Keymer I saw the downs. I Also saw
the blackest clouds yet!
I transferred into another Storm wheelchair, with a fresh set of
batteries. We were sure this would easily see me through the remaining 10
miles to Brighton. Anyone who has cycled the London to Brighton ride will
know of the infamous 'Ditchling Beacon' after passing through the village of
Ditchling, the country road winds itself uphill for over a mile until you reach
Ditchling Beacon at the top of the South Downs. The road is very steep
sometimes a 1 in 4 uphill gradient. Not many cyclists can make it to the
top without stopping, before my accident I was one of cyclists that had beaten
the 'Beacon' It was at this point on my journey as I climbed the hill in
my wheelchair that my cycling memories came flooding back to me. The rain came
down torrentially again as I climbed the hill, somehow I didn't seem to care, I
was just reliving the days before my accident when I could cycle. Although
the wheelchair was quite different I still felt the same sense of achievement
when I reached the top. As we headed down the other side of the Downs
towards Brighton I saw the sea for the first time and felt quite
emotional. I knew then that I was going to complete the challenge I had set
myself in one day.
We traveled through the
outskirts of Brighton and we had finally finished our journey at Brighton
Pier at 5.15pm the same day. A lot of my family met us there
which was very nice of them.