This is a photo from one of my favourite ever rides in Mallorca with my eldest, Danny. He rode alongside me on a hybrid bike (in bloody espadrilles - don’t ask) up the first climb out of Port Pollenca towards Cap Formentor, a road many cyclists are familiar with. He rode all the way to the top without stopping and I don’t mean the bit where the coffee stop is. I mean the bit that goes up to the funny little monument on the single track road. I was especially proud of him because Danny is disabled and this was a huge effort for him.
He was born with a condition called hydrocephalus which is similar to Cerebal Palsey and means that he is partially paralysed in his left side. He had an operation at five months to put a shunt inside his skull, which helps relieve the pressure on his brain. After the operation, the surgeon gave me the ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best’ speech which was tough to hear as a 25 year old parent. We weren’t even sure if he would be able to walk and talk.
27 years later and Danny has achieved everything he has ever set out to in life. He gets there his way in his own time. He keeps plugging away. He is the living embodiment of the Adidas marketing phrase "Impossible is nothing".
He is lucky he inherited his dad’s physique but his Mum’s sporting talent because the other way around would have just been cruel. Over the years he has won medals and set records in multiple athletics events, played and scored for the England CP football team, run 5km and 10km races beating able-bodied runners and was the first disabled athlete to finish the local Wolf Run (an off-road 10km obstacle course). Now he is training to try and get into the British Paralympic team in two years time in the javelin. He is sponsored by his local Everyone Active gym and has recently been sharing videos of himself weight training. When he shares these on Instagram and Facebook be gets tons of positive comments, particularly from the parents of other disabled children who find him an inspiration.
Why am I sharing all of this, apart from the obvious parental pride? Because Danny is my inspiration when things get tough or I suffer some setback. This morning I had to abandon my planned session. I was supposed to do four laps of a local 16km loop with specific intervals of effort each lap. On the first interval, I really struggled to get going but told myself I wasn’t properly warmed up and riding into a headwind. But on the second interval on a gradual uphill, I was forced out of the saddle with back pain. By the third, the back pain had reduced me to a snail's pace. My back hurt at any speed in any position. I wanted to give up, but as I approached a T junction in the road I found myself thinking of Danny - what would he say? Probably he would say 'OK not this time, I will just keep trying '.
So I turned left instead of right and started thinking about Danny and dealing with setbacks. We all suffer setbacks in training, whether that's through injury or work commitments or the weather is crappy or perhaps you ruin your diet by going out for a lamb tikka masala with a Peshwari naan on a night when your partner is away. Obviously, I use that last one as an example only - I would never do such a thing.
I needed to remind myself that it's not the end of the world if I can't complete one session. It won't ruin the entire training programme. I'm not training for the Tour de France. My coach Rob is not going to pull alongside me in his car, hanging out the window screaming instructions (but maybe he will in May). No. I am training to ride something that doesn’t have to be completed. There is no pressure on me other than my own. So I slowed down and stayed out for another 40km, turning a potential abandonment into an OK ride.
Throughout his life, I have told Danny that I wish I could take away his disability, that it was just a random throw of the dice that he has it and his three siblings do not. More importantly, I have always said that you can’t stop crappy things happening to you in life, but you can choose how you react to them. You can choose your attitude. You can feel sorry for yourself and say ‘I can’t because’ or you can say ‘I am not going to let this stop me’. Danny and a thousand other Paralympians take the latter approach. When things go wrong or get tough, they don’t give up. They already start with an inbuilt setback so they have a strong mentality to get past challenges in sport and in every other part of their lives.
Thinking of Danny also gives me a sense of perspective. Honestly, getting upset just because I’m struggling with one session on a Saturday morning is meaningless. What would Danny do? Get up tomorrow and try again. So that's what I will do.
If you are the least bit inspired by Danny then give him a follow on Instagram as his sponsors love him to get as many as possible.