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From injured to cycling 100 miles: This is Mike's story

Mike Ashton was barely able to lift a 1kg weight after his spinal cord injury three years ago – this year he cycled 100 miles…

When Mike Ashton cycled over the finish line of the RideLondon 100 event earlier this year on his recumbent bike it was an emotional moment for many reasons, not least of all that he’d taken part in the same event as an able-bodied cyclist just three years earlier.

cycling team spinal injuries association on tower bridge at RideLondon event

Mike sustained a C7/T1 injury after an accident while cycling in 2019 – just a month after taking part in RideLondon 100 event – and the notion of ever getting back on a bike again couldn’t have been further from his mind.

Yet, less than three years later, Mike, alongside daughter Charli and supported by friends and colleagues, completed the gruelling challenge in nine hours to raise more than £50,000 for SIA.

Understandably for Mike, it was a ride like no other and emotions were high from start to finish.

“At 7am on 29 May 2022, I was there at the start of RideLondon-Essex 100 with my fellow rider, our daughter, Charli,” he explains. “Emotions bubbled up as it struck me that my last long ride had been the previous RideLondon 100  in August 2019. However, crossing the start line we got into a groove, Charli peddling and me ‘arming’!

“We cycled out through London and into Essex with the crowds cheering. I quickly learnt that the more you smiled,  the bigger the cheer and the easier it was! I will always remember the comments from other cyclists which ranged from ‘respect’, ‘legend’, and my favourite, ‘absolutely bl**dy brilliant’.

team SIA handcyclists and fellow rider smiling

“The message across our small team of riders was always to enjoy the cycling – it wasn’t a race on the day, rather an occasion for smiles and enjoyment.

During training I’d always tried to ride with others to make myself more visible to drivers (and tractors!) but had always found drivers to be really good at keeping their distance and giving me the occasional wave and smile.

“Being lower to the ground than other cyclists, I also got a very different view of things as you might be able to imagine – lots of bike wheels and Lycra!

“Moving on as we approached the finish, we had a final burst of energy and lots of emotion, crossing the line together as dad and daughter – just over nine hours after we started.

It won’t cure my injuries but hope plus determination can get everyone a long way – even 100 miles

As Mike explains, his has been a journey of recovery, rehabilitation and determination that began at Sheffield spinal injuries unit where he was transferred following an operation and a period in intensive care.

smiling at ridelondon finish with hand cyclist

“Looking back, that has been one of the many aspects of my journey. I can remember being at Sheffield and struggling to lift a 1kg weight. If someone had suggested then that I should ride 100 miles in May 2022, I’d have thought they were mad. But somehow, I went from 1kg to 100 miles.

“It was during my time at Sheffield that I discovered SIA. My wife Wendy  and I were going along the corridor and spotted two guys in wheelchairs  who were sitting really up right in their chairs. I was really slumped over in my wheelchair, so Wendy asked them how they managed to stay so upright and if it was possible to have a chat with them.

One of them was SIA volunteer Gavin Walker. He had the same injury level as me and talking to him helped put things in a whole new light and gave me the direction I needed at that point.

“He has been a role model ever since; somebody to talk to, bounce ideas off or simply have a grumble to. A good friend. His message was helpfully simple: you can do some things you did before, you just might have to do them differently. And don’t give up!”

Mike has carried this advice with him as he adjusts to all aspects of his life post-injury. Not only that, but the support also provided by Gavin proved a motivation for him to get back on his bike again.

Acutely aware that an encounter with SIA at a spinal unit is not something that will happen to every spinal cord injured person, Mike and his supporters – some of whom hadn’t been on a bike in years – took on the RideLondon event to raise money on our behalf.

two members of team sia ridelondon

Their collective efforts will ensure we reach more SCI people and hopefully, open up possibilities for life after injury.

An injury is life-changing and had a huge impact on both me and my family, friends and colleagues, says Mike

“You feel such a loss of control and uncertainty about the future. Immediately following the accident, there was no way I would consider getting on a bike. I didn’t want to know anything about it.

“But this intervention from SIA happened because the charity has volunteers in the spinal units,” explains Mike. “It’s a face to the charity which really means something. Gavin was able to signpost me to other services, where I’ve been able to access help. “Not every injured person gets to a spinal unit. I do know I have been very lucky.”

Gavin Walker still catches up with  Mike every month and remembers his drive and focus to make the most of his situation after injury.

He said: “Cycling was not initially on the list after his accident. That’s one of the ways where support volunteers can really help – by encouraging and supporting people to return to activities they once loved or give them the courage to venture out and discover new opportunities they never knew about or thought possible.

“Mike’s cycling challenge was not easy at all and took lots of planning and hard work. A fantastic achievement both physically and mentally and sums up his ability to adapt and overcome.”

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