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Unfinished Business - the Amanda Harris Story

If Amanda’s blog has inspired you to write a blog on anything cycling related, contact us at leisurecycling@outlook.com and we’ll get back to you!
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They say that life can change in a blink of an eye…

They were not wrong. In April 2014 my life, and that of my wonderful family, changed dramatically whilst I was out on my road bike training for a charity cycle event. I was happily pedalling across the wet but wonderful Welsh countryside, having, at the age of 40, finally found a pastime that gave me the freedom, enjoyment and headspace that I really desired. I was feeling elated having conquered an illustrious climb up Caerphilly mountain and I was looking forward to the ride back and that ‘nice cup of tea’ which would be waiting for me at home. The next moment however, I was lying unceremoniously in the middle of a country lane, my bike in the hedge, freezing cold, with my lovely cycling buddy holding my heavily bleeding head together with the only padded thing available – her cycling gloves. All I remember saying was, ‘I can’t feel my legs’. In those few moments, I had managed to break ribs, puncture my lung, break a collar bone, ‘de-glove’ my scalp (medical terminology, not mine!) and, most significantly, fracture two of my vertebrae which, in turn, damaged my spinal cord. This was the reason I couldn’t feel my legs – I was paralysed.  I had to undergo emergency surgery to fix my scalp and spine, and thereafter followed 7 months in hospital, first in HDU and a surgical ward and then in a specialist spinal injury unit undergoing intensive rehabilitation. Without a doubt that was the hardest time of my life. Being away from my husband and kids was bad enough but I also had to deal with the fact that I had suddenly becoming totally dependent on other people and would have to learn to do all the things I had always taken for granted all over again. Learning to sit up in bed, learning to get dressed, learning to stand, learning how to go to the loo. All the things we take for granted. I also had to learn brand new skills – skills that I never imagined I would have to learn at the age of 40 – learning to propel a wheelchair, learning to make a cup of tea sitting in a chair, learning to drive an adapted car. No one ever told me if I would walk again. It’s very much an unknown with a spinal cord injury. Thankfully however, my injury is known as ‘incomplete’, which essentially means I was given a chance that things might improve and it was this chance that I clung to every day during my rehabilitation. When I left the spinal injury unit I was thrilled beyond belief that one of my legs had regained nearly full function and that I was able to manage a few wobbly steps with a pair of NHS crutches.

The outdoors…

One thing I really missed when I was in hospital was the sounds, the feel and the smell of fresh air. I have always been an outdoor-type girl and so when my mum brought me in a small posy of fresh flowers to the hospital from their garden, I took one sniff and burst into tears. It reminded me so much of being out on my bike, my senses alive to the sounds and smell of the Great British countryside. From an early point in my rehabilitation I therefore began, with my husband, thinking about other ways in which I would still be able to get those same feelings. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to ride a conventional bike again, but I also knew that there had to be something out there. I was put in touch with Cardiff Pedal Power, a brilliant cycling charity who aim to get everyone out and about on a bike, regardless of age or ability. One of my first weekends at home was spent sitting side by side with my husband riding around a park in the pouring rain very slowly on a Pedal Power tandem trike, with him pedalling and me just clinging on for dear life.  It was not in the least bit glamourous but it felt just brilliant and gave me the buzz I needed to keep looking for the perfect option. As my fitness and ability improved I gradually progressed onto a single trike – having both feet strapped to pedals, with my good leg essentially powering the other. At the end of last year, my local cycling group, the Pontyclun Flyers, arranged a Festive Sportive to raise funds to get me back on my bike and I am now in the fortunate position of having my very own ICE RS Sprint Trike. Words can’t express how grateful I am to them, and also to Freetrike Rehab in Devon who gave me endless encouragement and advice to help me find what was right for me.

Unfinished business…

And so (finally) to the purpose of this Blog. You may remember at the beginning I mentioned that I was training for a charity bike ride when I had my accident. That bike ride was the annual Wickets & Wheels 2 day cycle ride from Taunton to Miskin, South Wales. The ride is held each year to raise funds for a local charity, 2 Wish Upon A Star which aims to improve bereavement services for those who very sadly lose a child. The charity was set up in extremely tragic circumstances and I felt very strongly that I wanted to do something to help. I was therefore gutted when I realised that I would not be able to ride that year. At the time, I was still on my 3 month bed rest in hospital and only able to move one of my legs slightly. Thanks however to the thoughtful and wonderful staff at the spinal injuries unit, I was able to cheer on the riders due to the fact that the staff wheeled me, hospital bed, catheter, and all, out to the roadside to see them go past. I even managed to have a picture taken with one of the riders, a certain Welsh rugby captain, Mr Sam Warburton! The following year, I was out of hospital and had just started pootling around on the Pedal Power trike I had mentioned above. I had done a few laps of the park and I therefore decided that I would like to try and do a few miles of the W&W route if at all possible. With the help of my husband and family and the organisers of the Wickets & Wheels ride, I was thrilled that I managed to join them for 3 miles through the centre of Cardiff. It felt great, but it was still not like doing the real thing. This year, 2 years on after my accident, I have absolutely no excuse. I have a fantastic trike, a (little) bit of fitness and a great deal of support. Whilst I cannot do the full 2 days, I am going to attempt to complete the 2nd day of the ride – 62 miles from Portishead to Miskin. I have a long was to go to get ready for it – my average speed at the moment is just 5mph and my average ride is 5 miles. This blog will follow my progress with training. You could say its unfinished business……. Special thanks to… https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/club/profile/7317/pontyclun_flyers http://www.cardiffpedalpower.org/ http://www.freetrike.co.uk/ http://www.icetrikes.co/home http://www.2wishuponastar.org/
As Amanda mentioned in her blog, she will be back giving updates on her training all the way through to the ride itself. There are sure to be laughter and tears and we’re sure you’ll join with us in wishing her all the very best with her challenge!  

Update - 21st March 2016

Ups and downs…

So, its mid-March and, after a few frustrating weeks with infections and dodgy feet, training is finally under way for the 62 mile Wickets & Wheels fundraising challenge I have set myself for the beginning of June. I am managing to get out on my brilliant ICE Trike at least once or twice a week, and have increased my average speed up to 6.5 mph (even reaching 33mph last week on a lovely downhill section of the A483 in Mid-Wales!). I am absolutely loving every moment on the trike. On occasion I feel myself grinning from ear to ear and even giving out an occasional ‘whoop whoop’ when feeling particularly exhilarated. It’s hard to explain how it feels to be able to do something which generates a little bit of speed when you spend most of your day pushing in a wheelchair or hobbling around with crutches and splints, concentrating so hard to put one foot in front of the other, in an effort to get from A to B. The feel of the cold wind on your face, making your eyes water and your nose run is just something that you simply cannot take for granted and any opportunity to get outside and get up a little bit of speed on my trike, I’m there. Don’t be under the misapprehension however that I am some sort of Evil Knievel character. Believe me, I am not. The other day I was overtaken on a slight gradient on a cycle path by a man walking. Ok, he was power walking, but he was still walking! The problem I think I have is that my right leg is nowhere near strong enough to turn a whole circle of the crank when I am on a gradient. It is ok on the flat because my left leg can complete the circle for it, but when I am on a hill the left leg often doesn’t have enough motion to power the right one through. As a consequence, no matter how strong I am on the flat, as soon as I reach a gradient my speed plummets to embarrassing levels and my right leg reacts to the situation by engaging in a visible, repetitive spasm. My hope is that my speed will improve with more training. My current goal at the moment is to do a training ride with a group of local lady cyclists who have named themselves ‘Team Tortoise’ (for obvious reasons). If I can get to Team Tortoise speed I will be very happy – no need for talks of Hares just yet! In terms of distance, my furthest ride so far has been 12 miles, but that was one along a bike path with my family, with plenty of breaks for ice creams and toilet stops. As many of you will appreciate, riding on a family bike path is a whole different thing to riding on the roads, even more so when you are on a recumbent bike. My bike is only 10 inches off the floor, this means I am only 10 inches away from potholes, puddles, hedges and spray from passing vehicles. Any hill looks like a mountain from down low and of course I feel extremely vulnerable to other traffic. On the bike path I have only inquisitive dogs, narrow gates (don’t get me started!) and veering children on scooters to worry about. On the road there is far more to contend with. I am lucky that I have beautiful scenery, a wonderful husband and a good crowd of friends who are willing to take it in turns and come out training with me. I feel much safer on the roads when I have a couple of cyclists with me as although I have a flag waving from the back of the trike, I am conscious that I am not overly visible, especially to busy commuters zooming around the country lanes where I live, caught up in their own busy lives. The flag of course does often draw attention to me, especially in the parks, and people do not seem afraid to pass comment as I pedal by. Mostly good comments, like ‘cool!’ or, even ‘sick!’ from the kids (which I’m led to believe is indeed a positive remark nowadays!) but also some incredibly un-considered comments, mostly from adults who should know better. The other day a gentleman felt the need to say, ‘now, lying down – that’s lazy’ as I passed him on a canal path.  I bit my tongue at the time but was fuming inside. If only he knew. So, just 10 weeks to go and a long, long way in terms of training to go. I need to get my mileage up on my training rides and I need to be able to conquer some hills without my right leg breaking into spasm and slowing me right down. A drive to Bristol in the car last weekend and a glance over to the old Severn bridge where the Wickets & Wheels route will pass, made me realise just how many miles I have committed to. I can’t allow doubts to hold me back though and I am looking forward to the next few weeks of training. A ride alongside Mark Pritchard in his world record attempt to complete 30 half ironman distances in 30 days next week (www.pritchards100kchallenge.com) I’m sure will give me a boost and a few rides in west Wales with the family will hopefully leave me feeling rested and far more confident.
Many thanks to Amanda for her blog, informative, heartwrenching and inspirational in equal measures! In 2017 Amanda is hoping to complete the whole two day 120 mile 2 Wish Upon A Star Wickets and Wheels charity ride to finally complete her Unfinished Business. If you’re in a position to help Amanda raise much needed funds for the charity that obviously means a lot to her, you can make a donation by visiting her new JustGiving page here. Thank you for any help you can give. Click here or on the icon (right) to find out more about the wonderful work and support given by 2 Wish Upon A Star, raising funds to improve bereavement services in Wales with an emphasis on bereavement support for parents after losing their child suddenly and traumatically. A very worthy cause and a truly special charity.

Update - 28th April 2016

So, the route for day 2 of Wickets & Wheels 2016 has been published. Turns out its’ 66.4 miles, not 62. Where did that extra 4.4 miles come from!?! It’s also a total of 2,869ft climbing. Gulp. With 5 weeks to go I am experiencing a mix of emotions – sometimes complete dread and other times real excitement – fingers crossed, after 2 years of missing out, I will finally be able to participate in what has become a much talked about event in our village, and raise some funds to help bereaved families via 2 Wish Upon A Star. Training is going fairly well – I am getting out at least twice a week and I have managed a couple of 20 mile rides. I would have liked to have been up to around 30 miles by now but, with an average speed of still around 6.5mph, it is hard to find the time and the routes near me to do that. I am continuing to make a move away from the bike paths back onto the road so that I can get used to different terrains and of course the, oh so significant elevations. It is these that I dread the most as I still slow almost to a halt when I get to the bottom of any hill. My friends and husband continue to support me – forming a protective circle around me on the roads and on rare (*ahem*) occasions, giving me a shove from behind up the hills. As a T4-T6 incomplete paraplegic, participating in such an event alongside able-bodied cyclists brings with it a whole heap of other considerations, many of which I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid about prior to my accident. One of the biggest (and one which I don’t really like to publicise), is the fact that spending a penny is no longer a simple task. Gone are the days when I could hop off the bike, jump over a gate and squat like a lady in the farmers’ fields. Firstly, I can’t hop off anywhere and without my splint and crutches (neither of which can come with me on my trike), I can only just about stand. As for squatting – no chance! If I even attempted to squat I would be flat on my back without any chance of getting back up! Alongside the practical problems is the fact that an extremely common, but not often talked about, effect of spinal cord injury (SCI) is loss of function or weakness of the bladder. I am no exception. These factors combined mean that any ride needs to be perfectly planned with plenty of accessible toilet stops en route. It also means that I am guilty of not taking on enough liquid, always worrying about the fact that I will then need to go to the loo again. It does concern me but i am sure it will work itself out. A more obvious and well appreciated symptom of SCI is of course weakness or paralysis to one or more limbs.  In my case, my right leg. After 260 miles of training since January, my leg is starting to feel a little stronger on rides but still has a tendency to break into spasm, particularly when I am trying to push through it on hills. My hope is that it will hold out for the full 66 miles on the 4th June. One thing is for certain, it will not thank me afterwards and will no doubt spasm uncontrollably for a few nights afterwards. Anyway, enough talk about SCI. The fact is I am still LOVING my trike. Over the last few weeks it feels like it has been everywhere with me and I have managed to take in some of the best scenery Wales and the Westcountry has to offer. From long sandy beaches to flat glistening reservoirs & dams. From Welsh castles to rolling Devon countryside. It really has been amazing. I am still hugely envious of every road cyclist I pass and of every person who proudly posts pictures of their rambling walks in and over our beautiful countryside. I do so miss that, I really do. But I try not to let my mind drift for too long. What matters at this stage is that I am back out there and I’ve got the small business of 66.4 miles to finish. Who knows what is around the corner after that.

In for a penny, in for a pound (or 66.4 miles)…

8am on the 3rd June and Wickets & Wheels 2016 has finally arrived! 200+ riders are sat on coaches on their way to Taunton, about to start a 120 mile 2 day ride back to Miskin, South Wales to raise funds for the bereavement charity 2 Wish Upon A Star. Much chatter, banter, excitement, and no doubt a little apprehension, on board. Me, I’m lying quietly in bed, having had a rubbish nights’ sleep, worrying and dwelling on the seemingly huge task I have set myself – to join them at 6am tomorrow morning for the 2nd day leg from Portishead, across the Severn Bridge, and back to Miskin – 66 miles of pedalling, or thereabouts. I know I don’t really need to worry. I’ve done a fair bit of training. Over 490 miles and 75 hours since January to be exact! With the help of some great friends I have managed a couple of 30+ mile rides, and my average speed has steadily increased to 7.5mph. Still not fast enough to keep up with the slowest of the able-bodies cyclists, but fast enough hopefully for my husband and I to complete the day tomorrow in around 10 hours and make it back in time to share a drink or two at the ‘after-party’. During the course of my training I have also exceeded my initial fundraising target which I am over the moon about. With such support, I wonder if I should increase my target? 2 Wish Upon A Star is quite simply a wonderful charity which works so hard to help families in the darkest of times, and I know every penny raised will be put to great use, whether helping to establish bereavement suites in A & E departments, funding professional bereavement counsellors for long-term support or even providing little cuddly George elephants to suddenly bereaved siblings. The charity itself has had to endure unimaginable heartache this year, after losing 2 of its’ most fabulous supporters in a tragic accident, and tomorrow I know the memory of Stuart and Fraser, together with my wonderful friend Wendy, will be helping my legs keep turning up the dreaded hills. So, time for me to get up, stretch, pack my bag, have a last check over by the nurse, ‘accessorise’ my wonderful trike (flag and compulsory vintage comedy horn) and take this challenge head on. Thanks for the support guys and remember #beepwhenyouseetheflag! Go Team Tortoise!!!

Update - 3rd June 2016

Wickets and Wheels 2016, here I come….