Jonny Bellis: From never walking again to Commonwealth Games aspirations

Manxman speaks of long recovery since almost-fatal scooter collision in 2009

by Sarah Barth   June 7, 2014  

Jonny Bellis - Flickr CC - Ewan McDowall

Jonny Bellis, the promising young rider who suffered a serious head injury and months of treatment after he was involved in a scooter crash on his way home from his friend Mark Cavendish’s house in Italy in 2009, has spoken about the long road to recovery and his ambitions for Glasgow 2014.

Speaking of the early days after that collision, Bellis, now 25, told the BBC: "Cav shook my hand and said 'how are you doing mate?' I told him all was good, that I'd be off on holiday when the season was over. But I could tell by the look on his face that something wasn't right."

He was placed in a medically-induced coma for several weeks following the crash which took place close to the British cycling academy near Quarrata, Tuscany, just days before September's UCI World Road Championships, in which Bellis had been due to compete.

Bellis's skull was shattered and his brain embedded with bones. He had also fractured his nose, cheekbones and sternum and a blood clot had formed on his spine.

40 days in The Wellington Hospital later, the £10,000 a month bill part paid for by a trust set up by his fellow Manx Road Club members, it was home and time for the hard work of recovery to begin for Bellis.

"For the first three months I was having all these crazy dreams, but I couldn't do anything when I was awake, I was just lying on the bed. All I was thinking was 'when can I get back on my bike?'

"But the doctors had already said to my parents, 'he's going to live but he's going to be paralysed from the neck down'. These are specialist guys, they know what they're talking about. I needed a miracle."

The recovery wasn’t smooth at all, with a bowel infesction, a stroke and two emergency tracheotomies to contend with. Over a few weeks, Bellis lost four stone in weight, and doctors warned him he may never even walk again.

Ten months after the collision, he was ready to try.

"I said to my dad, 'I'm ready to go out again'," says Bellis. "He said, 'you're having a laugh aren't you? I tell you what, I'll follow you in the car and we'll do a little circuit of the Isle of Man.' So off we went.

"I could barely get out of the saddle. I felt wrecked after half an hour. That's when it hit home how weak I still was and that I still had a long way to go before I could even think about racing again."

Just a few months later he rode in the Tour of Britain, but withdrew after 50 miles. The frustrations continued as CSC Saxo Bank, having supported the worst of his rehabilitation,  cancelled his contract at the end of 2010. The next couple of seasons were spent with AN Post in Belgium.

"I was just hanging on all the time, going at my maximum but just trying to survive,” he says. "I wasn't really racing, I was there to make up the numbers. Psychologically it was so hard, getting a kicking day after day after day.

"Sometimes in races I'd just sort of give up, the confidence was so low."

"It's taken me a few years but now I feel strong enough to train properly.

"The more races I do the more confident I become and now I'm able to be involved in the race rather than just hanging at the back, thinking of finishing."

For the last couple of months Bellis has ridden from Christina Watches - and now he’s been named in the Isle of Man track team in the Commonwealth Games.

"It's not that I wouldn't want to work for 'Cav' and Peter Kennaugh on the road," says Bellis, "but it's been that long now since my accident that I have to start thinking about me.

"I'm not saying I'm going to get a big result in Glasgow. But I'll go there in the best possible physical shape and do everything I can to get my name back out there. Who knows what might come afterwards.

"If it wasn't for that accident I'm positive I would have had a lot more success in cycling. But I have to take a step back - I'm lucky to be alive and I have age on my side.

"I've still got time. Someone or something has decided that there is more for me to do in this world."

6 user comments

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The "An" in "An Post" is a word, not an abbreviation. It's gaelic for "The". It shouldn't be capitalised.

posted by Paul J [594 posts]
7th June 2014 - 15:16

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Paul J wrote:
The "An" in "An Post" is a word, not an abbreviation. It's gaelic for "The". It shouldn't be capitalised.

Yes, that was an inspirational story, wasn't it?
Anyway, shouldn't "Gaelic" being a proper noun, be spelled with a capital letter?

posted by pwake [288 posts]
7th June 2014 - 19:16

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Jeez, better tell An / an Post that they've got it wrong on their own website.
http://www.anpost.ie/AnPost/

posted by Cauld Lubter [117 posts]
7th June 2014 - 19:37

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Point scorers aside... Great news about Johnny. It sounds like a painstaking and complicated recovery. All the very best wishes to him.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1055 posts]
8th June 2014 - 11:16

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I really hope he has some good fortune, such an inspiring story about not giving up, I think if half of professional athletes were as determined as Jonny they'd have some serious success.

Former Fat Lad on a Bike

posted by RobD [99 posts]
9th June 2014 - 9:34

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Cauld Lubter wrote:
Jeez, better tell An / an Post that they've got it wrong on their own website.
http://www.anpost.ie/AnPost/

Read the article and you will see the posters point, it is An Post not AN Post, which is how it is written.

enough of the pedantry.

Hope it works out ok for him, how easy would it have been to walk away and accept it was all over?

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posted by mrmo [1064 posts]
9th June 2014 - 13:15

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