One of my favourite Motown tracks of all time is “Don’t Look Back” by the Temptations, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l89W1mmnc2Y, released on the Gordy label in Detroit in 1965. I was just 12 years old but didn’t get to hear that song until many years later: it was a ‘B’ side. And therein lies a story: it’s not always what’s being touted in front of you that’s the real deal: sometimes you have to dig deeper and find the true meaning for yourself. And that’s what I’ll always remember about LCFN in 2015.
So let’s turn the clock back twelve months to this opening paragraph of 2014’s Greatest Hits…
“I’m sat here at half five in the morning on Christmas Eve when I would normally be on the first hill out of Stewarton. But I’ve swapped the cold, the rain and the darkness for coffee, a screen and a keyboard to knock up LifeCycle’s Greatest Hits of 2014.When I look back to this time last year, I can get a sense of how far I’ve come, not just in terms of the miles but as a person. There was no flag back then, no business cards and certainly no LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma page on Facebook. And if they are ways in which the bike ride has grown in 2014, only time will tell what lies in store in the next twelve months”.
You might expect me to list a whole stack of events, occasions and good times that made this year what it was . But I will remember 2015 for none of those things because this was a year when I crossed over from the driven to the spiritual.
Then that same blog served up this:
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future with my job, my health, the weather, all of those things that can derail my plans but I reckon that 44 weeks of LifeCycle out of 52 is achievable. Calculator: 44 times 140 is 6160 miles a year. Let’s round that to 6000 to keep the numbers simple. With almost 3000 on the clock, I need a further 22000 at 6000 a year to finish the job. That’s just over three and a half years. This is January 2014: so that’ll be late summer of 2017”
My health wasn’t good going into 2015: I’d been at the doctor in September of 2014 and he diagnosed a hernia in my groin. I carried on cycling through the autumn, saw a specialist in December and was pencilled in for the knife in January. The operation cost me 9 weeks. But more than that, it cost me a huge amount of self confidence. An early attempt at a comeback after six weeks brought about this reposte:
“So the bottom line, at the end of a week when I’d hoped to be looking down the barrel at Halfway House next week, is that I’m going to park further attempts at a comeback for at least two more weeks, maybe even three, until such time as I can poke a finger at the sore bit and it’s not sore any more.
All of this, I can assure you, makes me feel like a bit of a fraud. Having spent so much time energising so many people into supporting my venture, I feel like I’m letting them down by not being able to get going again. You know how it is when a footballer makes a comeback only to break down again and spend another spell on the sidelines: reputations are made, and that’s where I’m at. I hope people will understand that I am trying, and constantly waiting, but it’s all taking a whole lot longer than I’d imagined and hoped for”.
That was at the end of February.
In early March, the back wheel exploded (literally) on my touring bike and I had to make do on a combination of Jane’s identical machine, albeit set up differently, and the mountain bike that delivered miles 2000 to 5000. That incident, which luckily occurred just two miles from work, ushered in the most significant technological advance of LCFN to date: a lightweight road bike for my 62nd birthday: it was the third year in a row that I’d had a new bike for my birthday, and who am I to say that won’t become four in March 2016. The LifeCycle Man breaks bikes like he breaks bits of his body.
This came from “It’s All Downhill From Here” at the beginning of April:
“But the thing that has defined this week more than anything has been the constant screaming of pain and emptiness in my legs. I’ve conveniently erased from my memory how sore my legs get by Wednesday. Monday’s just an ache, Tuesday’s more marked but by Wednesday night my legs are really, really complaining. The mental counterbalance is “just two more days, just two more days”. So somehow I get through Thursday then Friday takes care of itself. Weekend off; repeat…. But with this being only the second week back, and the weather being particularly vicious, it’s been especially hard. And my scar’s been getting progressively sorer too. I’m writing this on Thursday and my miles for this week are already up on last week, with the prospect of 200+ if I ride tomorrow. The legs will just have to get on with it, like they always do. The only thing that will stop me is the pain from my op site, and that decision will be made when I wake up tomorrow morning, or indeed if it wakes me up in the night. I hate to let myself down, and I hate even more to let down the kids that I’m raising money for. But if I’m too sore, then I’m too sore and I’ll have to deal with it. I can hear Leona’s voice in the back of my head: something about better some this week and some next week than loads this week and none next week or the week after. “Leona, I hear you”.
Those weeks back in April were especially tough. I was the best part of a stone overweight, my endurance was gone and the weather was stuck in a winter timewarp. It’s so easy to look back now and say “yeah, I got through it, but hey, I’ll tell you something, April took some getting through”.
But then came a wee girl from Forres. And she didn’t just change my outlook on what I was doing at the time, she changed my outlook on life: she took me back to the Spring of 1989 when I lay on a trolley in a hospital corridor paralysed by septacaemia. I didn’t go through anything like Eileidh, but looking back maybe being twelve hours from going over the edge was what gave me the drive to do things that other people don’t do.
I can’t actually remember when it happened but sometime back in January/February time, Carol Gibson shared Eileidh’s Journey onto my timeline. It took me a few minutes to twig, but slowly, I came to realise that the two year old girl (back then) at the heart of this story was the same seriously ill girl that Mouldy and I met during Cycling Santas in December 2014. It doesn’t sound right to say that we met in a pub but we did. Eileidh had been living in Yorkhill Children’s Hospital in Glasgow for the previous three months and was about to go home for Christmas on that December Sunday. Mouldy and I were knackered after riding 50 miles into sleet and rain from the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh and I was contemplating the drive down to Stranraer in winter conditions to do the Santa run in Belfast the next day. Maybe that’s why I didn’t make the connection straight away.
But I quickly realised that whilst Eileidh was making progress, her only hope for long term survival lay in getting onto the DFMO clinical trial at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital at Grand Rapids in Michigan, and for that to happen, her Mum Gail had been tasked with raising a hundred grand in three months. There was only one thing I could do. I got hold of Mouldy and he raised some of his troops in the Celtic family. I did likewise with the Caley Thistle Highland Marchers, I diverted my fundraising to Eileidh’s Journey until the end of May and by virtue of some extraordinary work by our friends, we managed to raise over £4,000. Gail reached her target, in fact she exceeded it, and Eileidh went to America, cancer free and with a glimmer of hope that she might remain that way.
I, meanwhile, continued my comeback. Four months after my operation, Mouldy, Robert (Mouldy’s mate), Kev (my mate) and I cycled from Eileidh’s home in Forres, via Inverness (Caley Thistle) to Celtic Park. 214 miles in three days was our message to Gail and her family that LCFN was with them. To get that in perspective, you need to understand this: Eileidh had been in hospital in Aberdeen for all of the previous week, only getting out the night before we set off from Forres. But she was at the Forres Mechanics FC ground to see us off (where Gringo took one of the most iconic photos of all time), she was at Caledonian Stadium to welcome us to Inverness and most importantly of all, she was at Celtic Park on the Monday to scribble on the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma flag.
In those three days, LCFN moved from being a corporate fundraiser to having a focal point. Without my knowing it at the time, Eileidh Paterson had become my Oscar Knox. I look at Tommy Melly now, and the love that he still has for the wee man, and I realise that I’m headed in the same direction on behalf of wee Eileidh.
But there’s more, and this story has to be told…
We arrived in the east end of Glasgow half an hour ahead of schedule on that Monday so Mouldy suggested that we park up at the Forge shopping complex. We had the incomparable Iain McGovern driving the support vehicle and I can say without fear or favour that Iain, or Tyneside No 1 as he is sometimes known, is the numero uno charitable person I have ever met. Here is a man who took time off his work and a train from Newcastle to Pitlochry to drive a motor for four mad cyclists to help raise money for a wee lass he’d never met.But now, like the rest of us, he loves her…
Anyway, cue 1:55pm on that Monday and let’s cut back to the “I’d Ride A Million Miles For One Of Your Smiles” blog…
Robert was getting seriously freaked out by a big black cloud that had appeared out of nowhere right at the back of us. We’d had sun for the past three hours so this beastie, at this moment in time, was most unwelcome. We legged it…
Now, even for a visitor like me, I recognise that it’s only two minutes on a bike from The Forge to Celtic Park. We got half way and the heavens opened. We got to the lights by the Emirates Arena where you hang a left for the final 100 metres and the rain turned to hail. I’ve since had it confirmed by Leona that this was indeed Oscar having fun, looking down on us and saying “you beat every bit of bad weather I could throw at you guys: respect” Or as my fellow riders exclaimed “Hail Hail, the bhoys are here: and the LifeCycle Man”.
Those three days marked the end of my first full week back on the road in the manner to which I have become accustomed: 200 miles plus. With both the Saturday and the Sunday thrown in for good measure, that week came in at a ridiculous 345 miles, a record which still stands today. It happened 14 weeks after surgery. But more than that, Eileidh Paterson changed the course of LCFN…
There’s not been a single week since of less than 200 miles: think about that for a minute… Surgery, 9 weeks out, four weeks to re-energise myself then 30 weeks and counting of 200 miles a week. I am hugely proud of having come back, overweight and full of self doubt, and having turned it around courtesy of a three year old warrior who demonstrates everything that I believe in: attitude, in yer face I’ll do it my way and never give uppiness. Neuroblastoma could’ve taken Elieidh from us in 2015. It didn’t because hundreds of people across Scotland and beyond gave her a chance. It also happened because Eileidh herself has a fighting spirit that us lesser mortals can only marvel at.
I was at Glasgow Airport to surprise the family when she came back from America the first time.
I was at the Floral Garden in Inverness, with Mouldy and Team Eileidh, to celebrate 20,000 miles in November.
I was at Glasgow Airport again last weekend when she came back the latest time. Gail had taken the flag to Michigan where it was signed by some of the leading kids cancer specialists in the whole wide world: now it’s spending Christmas in Poland with Anna and Krys, two of my best new supporters this year. LCFN isn’t about a bloke on a bike: it’s about people who are able to take the message out there that neuroblastoma, cancer of the nervous system in under fives, takes 1 in 2 children from us.
I’ve arrived at the end of 2015 having bagged 9,147 miles despite not really getting going until April. By comparison, the full twelve months of the previous calendar year only returned 400 more.
So now there are less than 4,000 miles to go and LCFN is in the home straight. My plan, weather permitting, is to bow out in Forres, having ridden 240 miles from Oscar Knox’s home in Belfast, starting the previous day, on Sunday 8th May. Then I’ll be a free agent….
There will be an official announcement after the bells at Hogmanay on what comes next.
But for now, those memories remain the very best of 2015….