Olympic champion rower James Cracknell has revealed how he has taken to using a cargo bike to get around after his driving licence was revoked after he suffered a seizure, a consequence of the incident that almost claimed his life last year when he was struck by a lorry while cycling in Arizona.
In an article written for The Daily Telegraph, Cracknell, who has pursued a media career as a TV presenter and adventurersince winning Olympic gold at Sydney in 2000 and Athens four years later, accepts that he is lucky to have survived, but points to his new mode of transport as evidence of the incident’s lasting impact on his life.
In doing so, he also highlights that those who suffer from some condition that may impair their driving ability have a responsibility to report that to the DVLA so that their condition can be assessed, and that they have to be prepared for the consequences should it be decided that their licence be taken away.
After describing his slow recovery from being hit in the rear of a head by the mirror of an overtaking truck while filming a TV show – Cracknell insists that had he not been wearing a helmet, he would be dead – he goes on to explain the process he went through with the DVLA.
That began when he returned home with wife Beverley Turner three months after the July 2010 incident, which resulted in him have to rebuild his memory and relearn skills such as walking that most of us take for granted.
“I filled in a questionnaire for the DVLA designed to assess my medical fitness to drive,” explains Cracknell. “Along with highlighting the damage to my brain's frontal lobes, I had to submit confidential medical information and a neurologist's assessment. The result? My licence was withdrawn, leaving a pregnant Bev with two children to ferry around.”
The 39-year-old goes on to relate how, after applying for a Driving Ability Assessment in April 2011, he took a practical driving test, not because it was required but because “I didn't want to drive loved ones around until I'd been properly assessed.”
In June, he learnt from the DVLA that he had met "the medical standards for safe driving," and with three children now to ferry around as well as the associated kit that entails, swapped his BMW M6 for a BMW X5M.
“Then, while at home watching television on October 8, I had a seizure," he continues.
“Coming around in the ambulance I felt lucid, aware of where I was and genuinely OK, but then I saw the colour-drained faces of Bev and my son Croyde, and the look of fear in their eyes. It was a horrendous episode for them to witness – they'd become used to seeing me slowly improving, to the point where I'd regained consistent day-to-day memory.
“My driving licence was taken away, this time for a whole year. Was it fair? Aside from a little tiredness, I felt no different to how I did before the seizure, but the thought of having another one and being behind the wheel, rather than in front of the television, made disagreeing unthinkable.”
As a result, Cracknell says he has had to rethink the logistics of each journey he makes, with more planning involved than simply jumping in the car and heading off to his destination. He acknowledges though that the fact he lives in West London helps: “If I lived in a rural area it would be significantly more difficult to cope," he comments.
Switching to a bike for some of his journeys proved impractical, however. “I began figuring out ways to work around it, like when I recently filled up the trolley on a weekly supermarket shop and then asked the store manager if he could look after my shopping while I cycled home and back three times with a crammed rucksack.
“And now, in a bid to reclaim independence and be of some use around the house (at least on the transport front), I've bought the tricycle. This is no ordinary trike, but rather one with an enormous box on the front that contains four kids' seats, meaning that I can easily cope with the weekly shop but not, sadly, the journey to the mother-in-law in Manchester.
“It's from Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood in Copenhagen, where, among less productive pursuits, they build cracking bikes and trikes. I'm clearly still hankering for an alternative lifestyle, despite living the stereotypical suburban existence in leafy west London with three wonderful kids.
“Although the trike's box is decked out in 2012 Olympic colours, I don't anticipate Sir Chris Hoy beating a path to my door to give it a spin around the velodrome next July.”
Cracknell reveals that while he has nicknamed the bike “the beast,” his wife has given it the soubriquet of “the eyesore.”
Despite that slight marital difference, Cracknell is also planning to use his new mode of transport to help him get back to full fitness, describing his exchange with the salesman who asked him if he wanted electric assistance to be fitted to it.
“I declined, mumbling something about using it to get fit. ‘Fill the box full of kids,’ he said. ‘That'll do the job.’”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.