A Heroic Effort
If you thought tackling Yorkshire’s challenging hills on a standard racing bike was hard……..
………..try cycling them on an adapted bike, like a recumbent trike or a handbike. Yet that’s exactly what beneficiaries of Help for Heroes, the Tour de Yorkshire’s official charity partner, will be doing at this year’s Sportive on Sunday 5th May. They have a team of 23 riders on a mix of upright and adapted bikes.
For many of Help for Heroes’ veterans, adaptive cycling has become an integral part of their recovery after being medically discharged from the Armed Forces. It provides a wide range of physical, psychological and social benefits, and it’s often the first step in developing confidence at the start of their long road to fulfilling their potential on civvy street.
That’s why we’ve interviewed RAF veteran and Help for Heroes beneficiary, Jon Knott, to find out about his own recovery journey so far, and what it means to him to be riding in this year’s Sportive:
TDY: Tell us about your time in the RAF and what led you to Help for Heroes
JK: I joined the RAF from college to be an electronics technician in telecommunications and much of my career was spent working on projects with different branches of the Armed Forces, known as ‘jointery’. I had a great 27-year career with the RAF, ending up as an Engineer Officer but then, in 2006, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I continued in Service, eventually becoming an instructor for engineer Officer training, but was medically discharged when my condition deteriorated.
Although I wasn’t sporty before I was diagnosed, I took up cycling at the suggestion of my physiotherapist at Headley Court (the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey) as a way of filling up my time after leaving the RAF. But my illness meant I was unable to ride an upright bike. That’s where Help for Heroes came in by grant-funding me a recumbent trike.
TDY: How did it feel to get out on your trike?
JK: It was difficult to get to grips with at first and not the easiest thing to fit the cleats to the pedals. It also came apparent very quickly that you use very different muscles on a recumbent trike compared to a normal bike. You can’t use your bodyweight to drive your legs and pushing your legs forwards doesn’t feel like a natural movement. This makes it slower going up hill and, to start off, it was difficult to make any long distance. Even four miles felt a long way at the beginning.
I kept going and doing a little further every time and gave myself a target to cycle 25km. Once I got that I increased it to 50km and so on and concentrated on increasing my speed. Since then, you’ve not been able to stop me! I’ve cycled from the West to East coast along Hadrian’s wall in Northumbria; 320-miles across South Africa, and represented the UK at the 2018 US Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games in Colorado Springs. The biggest challenge to date was Blood, Sweat & Gears which was a 320-mile ride across the Western Cape of South Africa, incorporating 22,000ft of punishing climbs. Hard work but amazing!
TDY: What do you like best about cycling?
While I still set myself goals, it’s not just about how far or fast I can go. It just makes me feel great. I get on my trike, start pedalling and instantly feel lifted. I don’t care where I’m going, I just love the journey. My mental health suffered when I was diagnosed and adaptive cycling doesn’t just alleviate many of my symptoms and make me healthier, but it also puts my head in the right place and is good for my emotional well-being.
TDY: So what made you sign up for the Sportive?
JK: It’s the perfect opportunity to challenge myself while doing something I love. A number of friends I’ve made through adaptive cycling will be doing the Sportive too so it’ll be a great excuse to catch up with them – while we’re all very competitive we’re very much a community and it’s always great to see each other.
Plus, it’s only an hour away to the start of the race which is an awful lot easier than travelling to Colorado or South Africa!
Living close to the Tour de Yorkshire means I’ve been a spectator before and have really enjoyed the whole spectacle – not just the cyclists whizzing past but the caravan and also the commentators. It’s an iconic sporting event so having it take place almost on your doorstep is very special, but being able to take part myself will make it all the more special and I see it as a real personal achievement.
TDY: How has your training been going?
JK: Well, it’s not always been easy as Yorkshire isn’t always blessed with the best weather for training! However, I’ve been able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Help for Heroes at their Phoenix House recovery centre which is based in Catterick Garrison. I’ve been able to stay overnight with other adaptive cyclists and head off into the Dales to get some hills under my belt. Cycling outside always beats being indoors.
TDY: What are your greatest hopes for the day?
That the weather holds out! And that I don’t suffer from any mechanical issues on the day. I’m just going to enjoy the ride!