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Inner Strength

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

It’s no secret that I’m working on writing a book (actually it’s well underway), not just about my cycling trip, but about my life. My hope is that it will inspire others to find their own ‘inner strength’ or maybe help them decide they too need an adventure. I’d welcome any feedback at all, negative or positive. Am I doing the right thing by opening up my life for others to see?

So here’s a snippet for you all.

I’ve been asked a few times now in private messages how I’m really doing and how is my cancer affecting the trip. It’s a difficult question to answer, so I thought I’d share a story or two…

I was 21 when I first felt the pain of losing someone I really loved. My sweetheart and fiancee, a girl called Sarah, found it too difficult to wait for me to come home on leave from my base in Germany, so started another relationship with a soldier in England. My world collapsed and it changed me drastically. What has this to do with cycling you’re asking? – please read on and all will become clear.

At the time I had not long ago joined my regiment in Fallingbostel, Germany. A new recruit, I along with a friend called Lucas were being bullied by one of the NCO’s, not an uncommon occurrence back in those days. I was just getting on and figured sooner or later he’d get bored or move on to other victims. All that changed when Sarah dumped me. I decided I didn’t want to be a victim anymore and one night called on my tormentor with one of the guards pick axe handles. I simply told him that he had to sleep sometime and the handle could do a lot of damage…

I’m not sure if my visit did the trick, or was it my running which got me respect, but I was never bothered again (nor was Lucas). Speaking of my running prowess, on joining my regiment we had to take part in a weekly BFT (basic fitness test). From week one I finished first and was never defeated in this test during my 9 year Army career. It simply became a matter of principle (oh OK, and pride).

But the biggest change came about in my climbing. I was quite a good rock climber, although nothing special. When Sarah dumped me my standard jumped almost overnight. I went from climbing at about E2 (extreme 2 standard) to E6, a huge jump. More impressively (or more stupid – depends on your viewpoint) I was now regularly soloing (climbing free – without ropes) at E5. So what brought about such a huge change in my lack of fear? – simple, I just didn’t care anymore and the freedom this gave me allowed my true ‘inner strength’ to come to the surface (Dr Matt Barlow, if you’re reading this I know you have done a whole thesis and paper on this topic).

But back to cycling and in 2005 when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I achieved some pretty impressive feats during my treatment. I’m not bragging, simply trying to tell you how once again my ‘inner strength’ surfaced.

I had signed up to do The Race Against Time, a charity ride from Lands End to John O’ Groats with a difference – 1,000 miles in only 5 days. The team met up at regular intervals to do some training together and I wasn’t going to miss out, despite just having radioactive implants (approx 100 rice sized seeds) put directly into my prostate. The training was to be a 100 mile ride and Ciaran the team leader asked how far I would go with them, as I couldn’t sit in the saddle. I said I’d see how I managed, then turn back. I truly could not touch the saddle, it was just too painful, so rode standing up. I refused to give up, so continued riding. And riding. And riding. I’m not sure if sitting in the saddle could have been any more painful than standing up for over 100 miles (more than 5 hours in total) of riding, but I didn’t because it was possible to damage the seeds. I called upon every last ounce of ‘inner strength’ to continue and when finished I couldn’t quite believe what I’d just done, neither could the team who were genuinely incredulous. Any cyclists out there, how long can you ride out of the saddle?

I know I still haven’t directly answered the initial question about how am I doing, but having read the above I’m sure you’ll understand that I’m a stubborn SOB who remains determined to keep on keeping on. Here’s why:

I’m one of eight children (born in the middle) and there are now only three of us left. Along with my parents, cancer has claimed the lives of most of the others, yet spared me. I’ve never really understood this and it still causes me much anguish, especially when I begged God to take me instead of my late wife, Caroline. It’s a huge burden, because now I feel I have to earn whatever time I have left and (maybe) make a difference – in other words justify my existence. That’s a bloody tough call for anyone.




samuele pitzalis
Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I will so inyensily think of your story when/ if fate strikes me, dear Derek, inspirational

karen boardman
Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Derek you are a survivor, thats why you are still here. I want a signed copy of this book when it gets published. Keep on with your special journey and our updates which i love to read xx

Chris McEnnerney
Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Very moving, Derek, and truly inspirational. You certainly are a fighter and you have my absolute admiration. I look forward to reading your book when it is published. Keep on pedalling! Best wishes

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 5:44 pm

I think it will be an inspiration to anyone who has had similar experiences Derek, and the most important thing of all is that it has helped, and is still helping you, you are the one doing this challenge, keep at it, I think its worthwhile

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 7:50 pm

You are truly an inspiration. I wish that I would’ve had more time to visit with you and hear your stories while in Butami. I missed out. I also cannot wait for my signed copy of your book. God Bless.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 10:41 am

I’m just happy to know that there is someone like you out there, Derek. It just makes me happy, simple as that. Keep on keeping on! I’m following your blog now! Hi also to Margo and everybody else I met in Batumi.

    Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Great to have you onboard Hansi, please keep me updated with what happens to you too!

    Thanks everyone for your support – I know that’s a very big factor in why I’m still cycling. πŸ™‚

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm

In answer to your question, yes I am reading πŸ™‚
I’ve always enjoyed our chats about these (above) topics.
I think it will be a great exercise to pen down these things into the form of a book – looking forward to it.

Here’s what someone else had to say about our work Derek, you might find it interesting:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Matt, I found one sentence in the article which for me sums up what drove me on.

“Put simply, close human emotional relationships are fraught with emotional difficulty that is better played out by hanging off a cliff edge.”

And while the above is certainly true, I’ve learned over the years that other factors have shaped me into the (somewhat troubled) individual I am today.

Friday, August 9, 2013 at 11:02 am

Great article Matt! And that’s a pretty good line that you picked up Derek πŸ˜€ It’s like poetry!!

I’m also looking forward to the book! It’s a story to be told.

I’ll write you an email Derek and tell how I’m doing (the stuff we talked in Batumi). I’ve been quite busy when I came back but it’s been alright:) I want to share some pictures with you and I need time to pick few good ones from my collections.

Have a nice day of biking!!

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