Help For Heroes
The Dales are hilly, but Tour de Yorkshire Sportive rider, Jon Knott, has had bigger mountains to climb.
Words: Susan Perolls
Photos: Help for Heroes and SWpics
Tackling 79 kilometres of the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire stage four, across many of the infamous hills on a round trip from Leeds, is tough enough for most people. So, imagine facing the climbs when you have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and are riding an adapted recumbent bike – suddenly the challenge seems an awful lot bigger.
But this is what RAF veteran, Jon Knott, did as one of the 23 Sportive riders in the Help for Heroes team – all of whom have seen the huge benefits of adaptive cycling as part of their recovery after being medically discharged from the British Armed Forces. Help for Heroes is the official charity partner for Tour de Yorkshire 2019.
This is Jon’s story about his own recovery journey, how he was introduced to Help for Heroes and what it means to him to be riding in this year’s Sportive:
“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.
“It was difficult to get to grips with riding the trike at first, and it’s not the easiest thing to fit the cleats to the pedals. It also became 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 uphill and, to start off, it was difficult to ride any sort of long distances. Even four miles felt a long way at the beginning. However, in my recovery I’ve had much bigger mountains to climb, so I pressed on.
“I kept going, doing a little further every time, and gave myself a target to cycle 25 kilometres. Once I got that I increased it to 50 kilometres, and so on. I also 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. It was hard work but amazing.
“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, it also puts my head in the right place and is good for my emotional well-being.
During his training and preparation for the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire cyclosportive, Jon said: “The (Tour de Yorkshire) Sportive is 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 I only live 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.
“My training for the event has not always been easy as Yorkshire isn’t always blessed with the best weather for it. 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.
Jon completed the Tour de Yorkshire cyclosportive on Sunday, May 5th, and afterwards he summed up the experience for us:
“The hills were more challenging than I remembered but it was fun going downhill! However, the most amazing thing for me was doing the Tour de Yorkshire with my friend and another Warrior Games 2018 double-medallist, RAF Veteran Dave Rose. We started on our recovery journey together with Help for Heroes and we challenged ourselves to both do the Tour de Yorkshire. It was an incredible race but what was best was that Dave and I crossed the finish line wheel-to-wheel.”
For more information on how to donate to Help for Heroes go here.
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