The idea for Damian to do the Junior Argus was very much a last minute decision. We had been struggling for ages to get an answer from the organisers as to whether I would be allowed to take him with on the Argus, and on the Monday before the Argus I got the final “No”. We were very disappointed as I had trained hard with Damian and he had given up many evenings and hours on weekends to ride with me. The thought of him not sharing the big moment with me was difficult. During that week I took my bike in to the cycle shop at Canal Walk and saw the adverts for the Junior Tour, and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity for Damian.
Damian, being completely wheelchair bound, is inspirational to watch on his special trike. Those little legs are capable beyond ordinary movement once strapped into the pedals. Somehow it seems to give him leverage that he doesn’t have when his legs are free.
The tricycle is big and solidly built. It was adapted by physiotherapists when we were living in Port Elizabeth. It has a backrest with a strap that goes around Damian’s chest to secure him. A pair of sandals are bolted to the pedals, so when Damian is wearing his splints, his feet get strapped into the sandals, allowing him to pedal once I have given a bit of a start to get the wheels – and his legs – turning.
Damian has limited use of his right arm, and he battles a lot with the left. I bought him a tiny pair of cycling gloves to help protect his hands on the bars as they tend to get very red as he can’t really hold on by himself. What we do is to get his right hand holding onto the bar, then I stand on his left, loop my arm under his left arm to support it and hold onto the bar to steer. It’s quite a bit of coordination as he leans heavily into this position, so trying to steer the bike, support his arm, keep the right hand on the bar and hold his body up – while keeping my feet clear of his wheels –turns into quite an acrobatic experience, with a good workout to my oblique muscles!
A couple of days before, we were again at the cycle shop and bumped into Rejeanne from the Bumble Bee Fund who I had recently met and discussed doing the Argus. I told her Damian was doing the Junior Argus and she told me they had a team of Bumble Bee children doing it too and invited Damian to join and wear their jersey.
I had taken Damian’s sandals in to be fixed that week and I got them back on Friday evening before Saturday’s ride. As I was putting them back on the bike I noticed THREE flat tyres (on a tricycle?). All my efforts to pump them with a bicycle pump were futile. I went to the garage early and fortunately they all pumped up (they have since gone flat again – so definitely were slow punctures!)
Getting ready was very exciting, we fetched Stefan and Louise who were coming with to film and Damian had fun on the trip with Stefan. Trying to find the rest of the Bumble Bees was a bit challenging and the bumpy grass was tricky for Damian. He started to get excited when we were in the start chute and then once he was on level tar he really began to enjoy himself. He was laughing and joking with me when I was telling him he was going too fast for me to keep up. A highlight for him was the refreshment station, where he was quite surprised that I allowed him to have Coke – normally a big ‘NO’ – for energy.
He managed around 2km before the material wrapped around the bar keeping his knees apart began to chafe his knees. We had to stop and walk the rest of the way back – with Damian on my back and pushing the bike. Fortunately one of the marshalls showed me a short cut back and I didn’t need to walk the remaining 3km back to the finish.
Damian was thrilled to receive his medal and goodie bag and to enjoy another fun trip home with Stefan feeding him chocolate, chips and all the other ‘bad soldiers’ we normally avoid.
I doctored his grazed knee with some herbal gel I got in my Argus goodie bag and then he slept for the rest of the afternoon… as deserved by a great endurance athlete!
I am so incredibly proud of my Warrior on Wheels and very happy that he got to have his own moment and medal for his achievement.