What's it like to go from being an athlete right at the top of his game, to being paralysed from the waist down and unable even to sit up? In a blog post on the Animal website, mountain bike trials legend Martyn Ashton describes his first year as a paraplegic.
He'd always been well-known in mountain bike circles, but Ashton shot to broader fame in October 2012 with Road Bike Party, the video that opened everyone's eyes to what was possible on a road bike.
His day job at the time was as a star of Animal's bike stunt show but on September 1, 2013 a trick went badly wrong. Ashton dislocated his T9 and T10 vertebrae and over the following weeks had to come to terms the life-changing nature of his injuries,
His rehabilitation was gruelling. He writes: "At the beginning of rehab it felt like I would never sit-up again, let alone bend in the middle. Actually at the time the thought of bending forward made me feel physically sick."
He likens the lack of sensation to going numb from sitting in one position all the time. Once he'd learnt to sit up, it was time to try a wheelchair, which was "really strange."
"As the winch lowered me into the seat I awaited the moment of feeling seated in the chair only to realise that the winch had stopped, I was already sat in the chair! But I felt like I was still floating above the cushion; that takes some getting used to."
Ashton is one of the most outgoing and upbeat people we know, and there's no hint of self-pity here. Once he able to handle the chair, he started doing laps of the quarter-mile-long corridor the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry.
"I couldn’t do more than two lengths at the beginning but weeks later I was able to get in and out of my chair on my own and push 20 lengths."
Offered a super-light chair he writes: "I of course jumped (not literally) at the chance." But he immediately realised that the "daily purgatory" of his old chair, with its annoying wobbly wheel, was what he really needed.
He writes that he "quickly realised after one quick test up the corridor that my daily push had just become infinitely easier. I rolled straight back to the physio unit to get my old heavy chair back. Sometimes life has to be tough before it can get better – I needed my purgatory – wobbly wheel and all."
The next hurdle was going home. Ashton couldn't get upstairs, so spent three months downstairs "in a strange bedsit scenario". Bit by bit, his house was remodelled and a stairlift installed.
Nine months after his accident, Ashton was ready to return to sports. He spent a month trying a range of different activities. As well as sports, he took on 'everyday' challenges like travelling by train, using an escalator — and riding a motorbike.
"I’m a lifelong lover of motorcycles! My sporting career started on Trials Motorbikes when I was eleven and to get back on a motorbike would be a joy."
Ashton's friend and fellow motorbike fan Pete Tompkins adapted a bike with electric 'landing gear' so would stand up when stationary. helped by friends and his wife Lisa, all anxious to see him succeed, Ashton took the adapted Triumph Speed Triple for a test flight.
He writes: "The starting and stopping bit was scary, but it worked and I loved it! All four of us were very proud that day. Committing to something 100%, knowing you might fail but eventually succeeding feels great."
But Ashton still wants to get back on a regular bike.
"There is no way I can deny that a huge part of my life has gone. Riding Mountain Bikes has been what the last twenty plus years have been about for me. I love riding bicycles, so no amount of hand biking or swimming will change that desire for two wheels."
Ashton writes that he has "battled with those demons, looked for replacements in other sports, realised they don’t offer me a new direction." But he doesn't want one. A man whose life has revolved around riding bikes, he says he is determined to get back on a bike.
"I know what I must do next," he writes. "I don’t need to find new sports to replace bikes. I need to get back on one, I need to ride with my mates, enjoy the outdoors and the terrain that is out there for me to ride. I don’t know how I will do it but I know I must because that’s who I am, that is what I do. Ride."
We hope he succeeds.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.