On the 21st July 2020, prosthetics expert Jim Ashworth-Beaumont went out for what should have been a quick afternoon training ride in south east London. Instead, shortly after setting off, he ended up under the wheels of an articulated lorry that cost him most of his right arm and caused massive internal injuries. He spent the next five weeks in a coma.
As one of his relatives says on the crowdfunding page set up to purchase a futuristic new prosthetic arm for him, Jim has "beaten the odds", and is now running again and cycling indoors on his trusty Boardman aero road bike... that "isn't doing much aero stuff at the moment", according to Jim.
The cruel twist of fate that meant a doctor who has spent two decades working as a prosthetist for the NHS is now an amputee himself isn't lost on Jim:
"There are a lot of little ironies there.
"I trained as a Nightingale nurse when the first wave of Covid kicked off, and I looked after patients in my trust in a CCU [critical care unit]. Within a couple of months I’ve been flattened off the bike and I’m in a CCU myself, with people with Covid all around me.
"I was working in a hospital for years, I’ve been a qualified healthcare professional for 20 years, and having to live in that environment for four months was freaky."
Jim, who is originally from Edinburgh, remembers almost everything about the incident itself, crediting his time in the armed forces with giving him the ability to shut down emotionally and "just deal with" traumatic situations:
"I do remember everything about the accident. I remember getting pushed by the lorry, holding on to the lorry, flipping underneath the vehicle. The lorry turned right but the articulation turned left, and that’s what pushed me. I ended up under the wheels and got crushed. I remember the wheels of the truck rolling up my arm, and had accepted I was going to die, basically.
"It took me a couple of weeks until I came out of my coma to realise how bad things were. My liver and my kidneys were screwed because they got crushed as well, there was a lot going on."
Being fed through tubes while he was in the coma left Jim's body emaciated and extremely weak. As a talented triathlete who has competed internationally at age-group level, it's something he found particularly difficult to come to terms with.
"I went to sleep a super-fit guy, and woke up as a skeleton. That was the really hard thing to take, I had no physical ability whatsoever.
"My wife brought me a laptop, I couldn’t open the bloody lid. I couldn’t pick up a pen for a week. That was the really hard thing to come to terms with really, not so much the bits that I’d lost but that I had no physical ability.
"But I’ve improved a hell of a lot. My liver’s improving, my kidneys have improved to the point where I’m not on dialysis anymore, and my leg’s sorting itself out. Short of regrowing an arm I’m actually doing pretty good."
The video above shows some of the earlier steps of Jim's painstaking recovery, including (around 3:15 into the video) pedalling a recumbent bike, that he credits with helping him mentally: "I was doing 20 mile cycles flat on my back because it’s something I could do. That’s another aspect of cycling that saved me, having access to that."
With the nerve damage to his leg impacting his ability to run fast or far, Jim says his cycling is now actually better than it was before the incident:
"I’m stronger as a cyclist now than I ever have been because I’ve never focussed on the bike. This time round it’s all been about building up the strength and co-ordination.
"I’ve also been working with a private physio twice a week and we do a lot of Wattbike stuff. It’s been really really good, sprint sessions and high intensity training. Although I’m a runner, the cycling has really accelerated my recovery I think.
"I’m not a massive guy, and even when I had the arm I was around 59kg. Now I’m about 54. I don’t produce a lot of watts, I can probably maintain around 150 for my functional threshold power. My stamina has improved a lot as well.
"Obviously you have to look for the positives in life. I think I’ve broadened my curriculum of fitness activities which is a positive."
The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed the unusual set-up on the handlebars in the lead image... and it's something Jim configured himself on the Boardman Air set up on his turbo trainer, calling it the 'Lefty Lobster'.
"I got the idea from an article I dug out from the internet, just Google searching ‘what do you do with bar shifters for amputees?' kind of thing", Jim explained.
"I found a little article and a guy had done something similar on his bike, and I worked out how I was going to do it to this Ultegra groupset.
"It was really easy actually, I hadn’t realised that the shifters are plastic, they’re not posh carbon or anything. It took me about five minutes to cut through them, although one-handed was a bit awkward. It’s got me back on the bike."
While a 1x gearing set-up might make shifting a bit easier, Jim says he's sticking with the Lobster because he prefers having the extra gears:
"I intuitively like having the idea of having massive gear ranges, I’ve always been a hill person. The gears on the Boardman aren’t optimal for big climbs, so one thing I might do is look to get smaller rings on the front.
"The internal cabling increases the friction on the outer covering which makes the gears a bit more harder to work, but I can certainly cope with it and it’s fun to ride."
Although Jim is planning to ride outside again in the future, he says it's a step too far at the moment, and he's waiting for a basic NHS prosthetic arm before he considers it. Recounting the incident once more, he expressed frustration at London's dangerous roads:
"Unfortunately the roads in London are just horribly congested. Catford is a nightmare, you’ve got a great big roundabout that was built after the Second World War, and the crossing over the river there is basically a two lane bridge. You’ve got all the south circular traffic going over that, and that’s where I went under the lorry. It’s just a horrible area with loads of casualties to its name."
On 1st March, Transport for London's "world first" Direct Vision Standard came into effect, which requires all HGVs that weigh over 12 tonnes to have additional safety features fitted. In yet another cruel twist to Jim's story, Direct Vision Standard was postponed by almost a year due to the pandemic; meaning, Jim says, that the lorry that hit him most likely wouldn't have been on the road if the new rules were in place at the time of the incident.
"That grates a bit, more than anything else", Jim said.
"Is it unreasonable to expect an extra level of safety? Passenger cars have incredible visibility these days, whereas in trucks that’s just not part of the thinking of design. So we’ve got some way to go. If it works in London [Direct Vision Standard] hopefully it will be applied in other cities."
Jim also revealed that he's a passionate supporter of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, and did some light campaigning from his hospital bed with the support of Lewisham Cyclists to "apply a little bit of pressure" on Will Norman, London's Walking and Cycling Commissioner:
"Since the pandemic started, with the initiative of blocking roads with the big plant pots. I think it's brilliant.
"I was doing little videos for the commissioner of cycling in London, to ask him to do what to be fair has actually has been done – close off smaller roads so cyclists can use them safely.
"And look at tightening up the laws. Not just relying on cycle lanes that heavy traffic uses anyway. I think it’s been shown that cycle lanes without physical barriers are actually more dangerous than not having them at all.
"There’s a whole load of thinking to be done around that, and at least it’s a live topic. After my incident they had to close off the south circular for the whole evening. We know of people who had to take a week off work after driving past the incident because it was such a mess.
"Unfortunately it takes something like that for people to realise there’s a problem. People just forget so quickly."
During his recovery, Jim struck up a friendship with Steven Kennedy, who lost his left arm in the 2016 Croydon tram crash. When Jim has a prosthesis sorted and is confident enough to ride outside again, the pair are planning a long distance cycle to raise money for mental health charities.
"I’m going to make sure we’ve got really good support and be safe", he added.
In the meantime, Jim says he will be able to return to work in a limited capacity after he's had his second shot of the Covid vaccination, and his family and friends are going full steam ahead with the crowdfunding for his state-of-the-art prosthetic. The motors in the artificial limb will link directly to what the brain commands through the nerves and muscles in the remaining part of the arm; which would not only allow Jim to resume working with patients again, but would also make him the first person in the UK to undergo such a procedure if the fundraising is successful.
"We’re looking to raise £300,000, that’s the real stink. The cost of having the surgery done and the limb itself costs £100,000, and the rest would cover the rehab", he said.
"At the moment you have to go to Sweden to have the rehab done. Jim’s Greatest Challenge is the name of the crowdfunding page, but the greatest challenge is raising the bloody money in the first place!
"There’s also a medical goal as well. Because I work as a medical professional and a researcher, I’m really interested in bringing the technology into Britain. We’re trying to get the procedure done here so we can start bringing it to people in the UK."
The crowdfunding page can be found here. Over £140,000 has been raised at the time of writing, and the target is £300,000 which would fund the cost of creating the unique limb, surgery and rehabilitation. All the evidence so far strongly suggests Jim isn't easily beaten by any challenge put in front of him, so we're sure he'll overcome this one with flying colours too...
Arriving at road.cc in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of road.cc in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.