“I wanted to do something for all the people who were there for me, and I decided I wanted to do something for Macmillan [Cancer Support], which involved riding a bike. Just before the cancer, I’d fallen back in love with cycling, so I decided to keep my focus and go back to the Alps in the summer. Clearly that wasn’t going to happen that year.
“I approached a local businessman who had done a lot for charity and asked, would he sponsor me to do a ride. He turned round and said, ‘I’d quite like to ride across America.’ And I said ‘OK, then!’
“We came up with the route from LA to Miami with the aim of raising £100,000 for Macmillan.
We would ride in 2010, finishing in Miami on the day that I had been given the all-clear. “I then signed up for the Etape Caledonia with Macmillan, the Wiggle Dragon Ride, and we decided to do John o’ Groats to Land’s End as a warm-up to make sure everything was where it needed to be.
“We flew out to LA on June 15, 2010, and spent a week getting ready. We left Santa Monica pier; everything was going fine, we were covering 100-110 miles a day, no problems, and in really nice hot weather. You’d fill a bottle with ice and within five minutes it was warm!
“We stopped in Austin, Texas, and went to a bike shop to celebrate my 30th birthday [on] July 4. What better place to celebrate! We did two days there. That was halfway, so it was homeward bound from there.
“Six days later, just outside of New Orleans, we were hit by a truck at 70mph. “We [had been] riding along US 90 and stopped at a service station. We’d got back on to the main road and were riding between the white line and the hard shoulder, complying with the law in Louisiana.
“I remember the tune that was in my head, and I remember looking up at a sign and seeing that it was 46 miles to New Orleans, looking down at my Garmin and thinking that it would take two hours.
“The next thing I remember is sliding along the road trying to hold on to the road with my hands. And then finding myself in a ball on the verge, wondering if I was going to be learning to walk again,” he says.
After three days in hospital, James flew home with broken ribs, part of his elbow missing and stitched up, and a high percentage of the skin from his legs missing. The ITV camera crews were waiting on the doorstep when he got home.
“Lying by the side of the road, I always said I’d finish what I started. I said that I was going to ride across America, so that’s what I was going to do. People keep telling me these are massive challenges but when you’ve overcome the challenge of learning to walk again, you realise just what you can achieve,” says James.
“After licking my wounds for two weeks, I was asked to do an event for Macmillan, as I’d taken on the role of Cycle Challenge Ambassador. I decided [that], instead of flying out to the Alps where it started, I’d ride there.
“We drove to Calais, where I got on the bike and rode 620 miles in five days. When I got there, I was riding up and down the mountains to help and support the other riders. There was a 65-year-old man who was first out in the morning and last in at night but he was still doing it and pushing forward for people he didn’t know.
Time to think
“There’s a lot of thinking time on a bike. I realised the Macmillan network was far bigger than just the people who had been looking after me – ordinary people who didn’t know me were part of this.
“I started to think that completing the second half of the ride across America wouldn’t be doing me any justice… or the nurses, patients and support network of Macmillan.
I still wouldn’t have done the whole thing [as a single ride]. I announced that night after riding up Alpe d’Huez that I’d decided to go back to America to do the whole thing again.
“So I came back to the UK, spoke to the guys at Adidas, Trek, Leisure Lakes and various other people, and decided that I’d fly back out to the States. We flew back to Los Angeles on January 7, and on January 9 I started cycling, from LA, finishing in Miami 24 days later with no rest days. I rode 145 miles a day and averaged 21mph.
“Because of the treatment that
I’d had, the surgeons had told me there was more chance of the moon hitting the Earth than me having children. While I was in New Orleans meeting up with the guy who was first on the scene of the crash, my girlfriend rang me and told me she was pregnant.”
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“You’ve two options: sit back and get
upset, or roll up your sleeves”
James was expecting a little boy and had raised £100,000 for Macmillan in America. Life was good. Then he got a phone call from the hospital: they’d found another tumour.
“You’ve got two choices, really: one is sit back, get upset and think it’s going to be the same as before; the other is roll your sleeves up and think, it can’t be as bad as it was before.”
He was going to need radiotherapy, chemotherapy and an operation, depending on test results. But James didn’t sit back and take it easy; he completed the Great Swim Series, the London to Paris bike ride, the London Triathlon, the Olympic test triathlon and the Alpine Challenge, after which he flew back on the Sunday and went into hospital on the Monday morning to have the tumour removed.
“They were worried that my heart rate was 35bpm, so wanted to do an ECG. I said you may want to consider I’ve just come back from three days’ racing in the Alps! The surgeon came back and said, ‘Everything’s OK to operate. I had chemo and radiotherapy every day for three weeks at the end of 2011.”
Beating it. Again
The operation was successful and surgeons were able to perform keyhole surgery. Although James has to have regular check-ups, he has finished treatment for the second tumour. He has experienced periods of depression in trying to return to ‘normality’ but has always remained determined to move forward.
“Keeping focus on the other things I was doing kept me going. My counsellor said to me one day, it’s not the fact that you’ve got depression that surprises me, it’s the fact that you thought you wouldn’t [be depressed]. That allowed me to recognise that it’s OK and it’s something I could talk about. Going through cancer the second time possibly helped me to deal with the first time. You still have the welling up moments.
“Going from where I was to where I am now , and I don’t want this to sound big-headed, but sometimes I think I’m amazing.” That seems fair to us. “At other times, I question why people call me an inspiration. I’m just doing the best with what I’ve got. I got dealt a pretty rough set of cards, and I’m [playing] a better hand than I should be.
“Cancer is like a headwind… no matter what you do, you’re not going to make it any easier. You can stop but it’s still going to be there when you get back on, or you can get into a rhythm and ride the best you can. Maybe that headwind is going to change [to a tailwind] and help you along your way; cancer is the same. Maybe someone is going to tell you it’s not there any more, but until then you’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing.
“There’s a massive team of great people who have made everything I’ve achieved possible, and together we’ve all raised £1.5 million.”
Global Ambition – Guinness records
James aims to raise even more money in 2013 and 2014. He is targeting two world records, the first being the ‘World Seven Days record’ which stands at 1,546.8 miles set by Pat Hawkins in 1940.
After that’s whet his appetite, he’ll be heading off in pursuit of the ‘Round the World’ record.
So what exactly is the record? The Guinness rules state “the journey should be continuous and in one direction (east to west or west to east), that the minimum distance actually pedalled should be 18,000 miles, and that the total distance travelled by the bicycle and rider should exceed an Equator’s length, ie 24,900 miles.”
It also states that: “Any considerable distance travelled opposite to the direction of the attempt must be discounted from any calculations of the overall distance travelled,” and that the route “must be ridden through two approximate antipodal points.”
The new rules now state that the clock does not stop for any transit flights or ferries, only when the rider crosses the finish line after completing the circumnavigation. Right, confused? So are we! Basically, there’s no set route but you must be moving forward, tick all the global boxes and the clock no longer stops for additional travel time.
Round the World Record Breakers
Sanders set the original record in 1984, riding 13,000 miles around the
Northern Hemisphere in 78 days.
In 2003, Guinness changed the rules,
which invalidated Sanders’s record.
The most recent
circumnavigation by a male was by Thomas Großerichter, finished on
December 31, 2012.
He completed the ride in 105 days, one hour and 44
minutes. His supported ride was the first under Guinness’s new rules.
Subject to Guinness confirmation, Großerichter is the new record holder.