BionicBeer

Reminiscing on ‘Cybathlon 2016’ Big Win and Training

I remember when I was training at my local Gym and thinking I want to do something. Getting regular requests and suggestions to get involved with the Paralympics was a constant pressure. I tried lots of different disability sports, Wheelchair Rubgy, Sit Skiing, Wheelchair Racing, Archery to name a few. There was always this feeling of disappointment because I knew these Sports were focusing on the arms only. After doing many miles on the Berkelbike and using my legs and arms, it didn’t make sense to take a step back.

That’s when I approached former Paralympian Paul Moore from Activelinx in 2014 who had previously sold me the bike. I happened to be in the Gym at the time, I explained, why not race the bikes, there’s no other sport out there for me. 2 years later, Rik Berkelmans signs me up for an event in Zurich. I would be racing in the World’s First Cybathlon, trouble is I had little idea about what it would entail.

Preparation for Cybathlon 2016

It soon became clear I was not allowed to use my arms and it would be a legs only event. I was then searching for months trying to find out who I was up against.  I figured I was in a similar boat to everyone else and I knew that my training was already way above in frequency. After watching videos I came to the conclusion that the surgically implanted electrodes the Americans used would be at an immediate advantage. Using the track at Stoke Mandeville Stadium I did some tests in the melting heat. Being unsure of how much my legs were actually doing, I needed to not use my arms and see my progress,

Getting just over 8 min for 750m, I had made significant progress. However I was notified that 8 minutes was the cut off time and actually I might even get points deducted. So I started training every single day 45 days before with very few breaks. Still getting just under 8 minutes, I put my faith that the racing version of the bike would give me the speed I was looking for. I really had done my best, now it was down to the Brainiacs and it was out of my hands.  Meanwhile the Press were getting very interested after the ICL Sponsor hosted a Media day and FutureFest triggered a whole series of events after appearing on the news.

The BBC then wanted to film a documentary. Right before I’m due to go out my inbox was filling up with requests, Radio, Interviews and Filming. I was tired but my training time was slipping away and I was a little concerned about the bike mods not being ready. I had to take time out to do film shoots which took crucial time away. I stopped training as close I could to the fly out and the bike was put on a van with Paul Moore.  Ian from Imperial College London Engineering Department then drove over all the gear from the UK to Zurich. ICL were our sponsor and were taking on a variety of different events in the Cybathlon. It was good to have the students around to help and Billy was particularly reassuring because of his will to get the job done.

Technical problems with upgrades before the race

There were delays and the Bike arrived about 11pm so I was riding up and down the Hotel corridor to see if it worked okay which it appeared to. However, when it came to tech check the next day at 7am, the bike failed the test. It became apparent the new crank actually messed up all the FES parameters and I was literally cycling backwards. The engineers were working non-stop on getting the pedaling motion fluent, it was unexpected. By 6pm, 11 hours later it was ready and again tried tech check and the Swiss assessors passed the Berkelbike. Meanwhile Bloomberg were following us around and I took a number of interviews even though I was still in the unknown. I had no idea whether it would work the next day but I had a Pizza and a Pint with the team before going to sleep for another 4am start.

Race day in the Swiss Arena

Kloten, 08.10.2016 ETH Zürich / Nicola Pitaro)

The Swiss had designed the most complex schedule known to man. I had to write myself a walk-through just to understand it and we were nervous we’d get the event times wrong. Being an Ice hockey rink, it was freezing so I had to keep moving. Our team room was more of a basement but up above there were 5,000 people and over 100 Cybathletes (Lot of Subs – hey Jimmy McKune). Being a strict event schedule, I was passively moving on a Bike roller pre-race and by that point Adrenaline started to kick in.

Kloten, 08.10.2016 ETH Zürich / Nicola Pitaro)

Qualifying

Next thing there’s that deadly moment of silence where I’m on the starting ramp and I can see all cameras on me. I smiled and set off down the ramp, riding one handed I absolutely nailed the push start.

Finishing all the laps depended on:

A. Me not taking out the other FES rider.

B. My timing for turning up stimulation choosing the right gears etc.

C. Technical problems

D. Training

I went at a steady pace leaving Lopez behind and sailing through 10 laps. I rode back afterwards to the team basement not really thinking too much about it. They then notified me I’d secured second place in the qualifying and now it was battle for first. I didn’t really believe it and was a little confused.

Battle for Gold

Mark Muhn was fast and my decision the day before to be more upright for my own comfort caused issues. After rapidly gaining speed in an attempt to overtake I hit the cable cover on the ground, got some air and slipped forward in my seat. I had to turn down the stimulation because my abs were violently contracting with my hips being in the wrong position. I lost all my momentum and consequently did not obtain Gold. Could I have won otherwise? Looking at the results yes because the speed bump in the track slipped me forward on my fastest laps 2 and 3. I was taking a risk with a sprint start but did not expect there to be a momentum stopper. It knocks off the FES sequence twice, this is something that needs to be fixed by the organizers.

After Cybathlon 2016

For months after I was still trying to manage the post press and was angry that it would be 4 years to get another chance. A few years went by, I was done talking about it, since winning the Silver medal did not change the present life. I spoke on the biggest TV networks, did numerous interviews and millions of people saw me, yet I was still in the same mind bending situation.

I took a downward spiral with news of Cybathlon was 4 years away and spent a lot of time working on my review website. I knew that if I was unable to make enough money to give recovery my best shot, I would blow my chances. Possibly even have health problems from not training enough and doing too much computer work. I forfeited having fun or going out to being totally dedicated to the project in order to pay for my continuous mistakes. I was doing minimal training everyday, going to Neurokinex every week, but it wasn’t enough to continue making significant progress.

After a lot of thinking I came to realization that if I do get the finances one day, I’ve got to be prepared and not give up when it comes to failure of success. If I’m to literally plug myself into the Internet Matrix, I’ve got to be in good condition for when I’m able to find the definitive answer.

I pushed forward silently developing a plan to solve Spinal Cord Injury by 2024. There was much anger at me for not being in the present and all relationships became increasingly difficult to maintain. It became an almost constant restriction to my training capabilities. No one knew what I was doing, could understand or have the knowledge to help. It was down to me to put in the graft or forever be in a Wheelchair.  In order to get the support, I had to do things beyond myself that were visible and make it understood.

Conclusion

I came to the conclusion that I’m going to win races, push the technology further and show what can be done on a much larger scale. I signed up for 2 races (officially 3 months ago), developed a regime to train and manage an emerging Enterprise. Not only that but pull the biggest PR stunt starting with Cyberbike 2018 building up to Cybathlon 2020.

I will now use all my skills with my family producing the promotional media until I have finances for a production crew. I will eventually get there, got this far and I have no other desire than to find the cure for Spinal Cord Injury.