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In January 2012 I will be taking on one of my toughest challenges yet – I will be cycling 550 miles using an FES bike, covering the equivalent distances from Spinal Research HQ in Guildford to the Queen Elizabeth Spinal Unit in Glasgow.
On New Year's Day 2010 a seemingly insignificant decision turned my life upside down. At the time I was living in Colombia, working as an English teacher in a bilingual college. While on holiday in the Amazon jungle I dived into a deceptively shallow river, breaking my neck.
What followed could be described as the most hellish experience of my life. I was taken to a hopelessly under equipped public clinic in a village in the middle of the Colombian jungle where I spent three days there fighting for breath, before being transferred to a private hospital in Bogotá. There I was treated for my grave injuries and infections before flying back to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire two months later. Almost two years after the accident, I now find myself in a home for disabled people near the town where I grew up, still paralysed but safe and well.
Since my accident I have been moved beyond words by the amount of support shown to me, not only by my family and close friends but also by many previously unknown to me. One unexpected source of support came from a charity I had never heard of before, but who coincidentally is based just down the road from my family home.
The work of Spinal Research has been vindicated by the recent advances made in spinal cord research, especially during the last couple of years and for the first time individuals living with a spinal cord injury have real reason to feel hopeful about the future.
That's why now more than ever funding is essential in order to continue the rapid development of understanding and knowledge about this type of injury, which has such a devastating impact on sufferers and their loved ones. And that is why I am taking on this challenge.
Shortly after my accident I invested in a piece of equipment called a FES bike, which uses electric stimulation to contract the major muscles groups in the legs, the quads, the hamstrings and the gluteus muscles. The stimulation is programmed by a small computer which stimulates the muscles in a sequence that creates a cycling motion. Its benefits for people living with SCI are that it maintains muscle tone, preventing atrophy and also increases cardiovascular conditioning by stimulating the heart and lungs to work harder. It also has a monitor which records how far you have cycled, on a typical day I can do about 7 miles, 3 to 4 times a week. So my idea is to do a "virtual" Ride for Research on my FES bike recording my progress each week. London to Glasgow is 550 miles; having done the maths it is clear that I would not be able to complete the ride in just a couple of days and in fact it is more a matter of several months. That's a lot of cycling - but I have decided I am up for the challenge!
Please sponsor me for my Ride for Research so that one day, when a cure for paralysis is found, people who have suffered from a spinal cord injury will be able to make a full recovery and cycle from London to Glasgow for real.
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