Well-wishers have raised thousands of pounds for a motorbike rider hailed a “hero” after crashing into a ditch on purpose to avoid hitting a group of cyclists and who was left paralysed from the chest down.
Music teacher Chris Toon, aged 32, was riding his motorbike on the B5324 near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire on Sunday 11 June when he felt his rear wheel starting to slide, reports the Nottingham Post.
With a group of around a dozen cyclists approaching on the opposite side of the road, he made a split-second decision that was to have life-changing consequences.
The story has been picked up by national media including the BBC, and a crowdfunding campaign set up by his friend Rachel Richardson has smashed its £15,000 target to raise funds for a special wheelchair for him and to pay for adapting his home to his needs.
Donations to the Just Giving page stand at more than £26,000 at the time of writing, and pupils at Nottingham High School, where Mr Toon teaches the clarinet, flute and saxophone, have put on a series of fund raising events for him.
He told the Nottingham Post: “I was heading towards Melton Mowbray, I was coming up to a blind bend so I slowed down but as I slowed down my back wheel skidded and it started to fish tail.
“I was then dragged onto the other side of the road, as soon as I got round the corner there were about 12 cyclists there in front of me so I decided in about a second because that was all I had, to go into the ditch.
“I flung myself into the ditch and my bike actually went over the hedge.”
Mr Toon fell 30 feet through tree branches and rocks and after hitting the ground realised he had lost the feeling in his legs. He also punctured both lungs and broke more than 30 bones.
“I couldn’t feel my legs and I actually felt my back snap when I was falling down,” he recalled.
“I just remember the cyclists coming to help me and saying thank you that I chose not to crash into them.
“I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hurt someone else.”
He was taken by air ambulance to hospital in Coventry for spinal surgery and was later transferred to Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham for further operations. He is now being treated at Sheffield Spinal Rehabilitation Unit, where he will stay until at least October.
Mr Toon has no close family and said he appreciated the support that friends, colleagues and students are giving him.
“It has been such a help to my psyche to have friends, pupils and colleagues giving me this support,” he said.
“It has been a very emotional time for me and I have realised it is the little things that mean so much. The cards I get and the messages from students are all helping me to want to get back to teach them.”
Ms Richardson said: “He is so inspirational. As a teacher he is inspirational and the kids he teaches miss him massively and everyone who has him as a teacher doesn’t ever want to have anyone else.
“He has such an impact on kids, and they all want to be just like him. His favourite word is groovy.”
Mr Toon said he hopes to return to his career once his rehabilitation is complete.
“I still have both arms so I will be able to have my future in music,” he explained. “I have always had a drive to help kids succeed and now I want to get back to them and help them again.
“They keep telling me they miss me and I have about 100 cards in my room from them. Music is my family and I need to get back to that, I can’t give up that life.”
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.