James W.

United Kingdom

Broken Back, But Not a Broken Spirit

I was 23 years old and at the peak of my cycling fitness, with the Alpe d’Huez 21 bends under my belt. I was ready to embark on a 2,448-mile charity cycle ride across the US on a triplet tandem bike, but fate had other plans.

I was living my best life working in France for the winter season, and I jumped at the opportunity to ski early one morning with some locals. I took an off-piste route which led into a steep, narrow chute that was like sheet ice. There was no turning back. I lost the edge on my snowboard and found myself tumbling down the mountain. The pain of my vertebrae cushioning the fall was excruciating. According to the doctors I was lucky not to be in a wheelchair, as a 20ft fall onto rock and ice usually has only one outcome.

I was overcome with feelings of guilt about letting down all those who had selflessly sponsored our challenge. I called my mum, who just wanted to console me by telling me not to worry about the people who donated. As soon as she said that, I knew instantly that I would do anything I could to make it happen.

After a successful surgery, I now had a spinal fusion from T12 through L2 with pedicle screws and rods. Fast-forward just over 4 months later and I was at the start line for our charity cycle across the US. I was filled with pride and excitement that I had made it here. Little did I know that just two weeks later I would be back in the hospital with my second broken back in a year.

A pick-up truck failed to see us before it was too late. The low evening sun temporarily blinded the driver causing him to plough into the back of us. Ever since that day I have avoided cycling on the road, fearful of the danger that other vehicles pose. The generosity from hospital staff and the support from strangers in a foreign country is something that will stay with me forever. I hope to pay this forward and have set myself the goal to complete this challenge before the age of 30, raising money for local charities through a virtual event.


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