Where do I start? It has been the most amazing, incredible, glorious day. The road through Little Kimble had marked a turning point for my son and we drove through the sleepy village with a red kite watching from its perch in a tree beside the road. Any other day I would have stopped and grabbed the camera… today, though, even the kites would wait.
We had left in good time, so we had taken a short detour via the route Nick had taken the first day he got the trike… and his first real taste of freedom in six years. A month later and we were on our way to the Paralympic venue of Dorney Lake, just outside Windsor.
Once there we headed to the registration tent and I finally got to meet the rest of the team properly. Heather Lloyd is Nick’s hydrotherapist and Eva Sobonova his physiotherapist at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital… and this madness had been their idea. Heather would start the race with a 750m lake swim, Nick would ride the second leg… a 20 km course… and Eva would be running the 5km final leg of the Para-Tri relay.
We located Zoe, who had kindly taken delivery of Nick’s trike the day before and headed over to the boathouse to collect his wheels. We’d gone perhaps twenty yards before it started…. “I’m from the BBC, “ … “I saw you on TV!” …”You’re Nick…” “ They’ve just been talking about you on the radio…” It was a litany that was to follow him all day as assiduously as the cameras.
They were talking about Nick and his campaign on the tannoy. Time for a photo-shoot and some essential adjustments… while the guys checked the tyres, Nick dealt with his sunglasses… then the numbers were on and it was time for the team to go into the transition area for the briefing.
I watched from behind the barriers… it seemed entirely surreal to see my son and a gold medallist Paralympian against the iconic rings of the Olympic games, knowing that Nick would soon be heading over that bridge.
Heather was first out. 750m doesn’t sound much… till you look at the course and actually see the distance involved, with no lanes, no smart tiles… just a lake full of determined swimmers, weeds, boats and arms. We watched, picking out the one orange cap amid the many… with me blessing the long lens of my camera once again as the tiny points of colour receded into the distance.
Nick and his team had developed a small crowd of supporters to cheer the them on… from friends and family members to the parents of one of Nick’s old friends. My eyes were torn between trying to watch Nick and watching Heather as she entered the final stages of the swim.
A cheer and applause as she ran up from the lake to pass the timing device to Nick… and while Eva hugged a soggy Heather, Nick was off. My son… over the bridge with the Olympic rings…
Want me to tell you how I felt as I watched him ride off into the distance? I can’t… Nick said it best perhaps, a little later. He nodded sagely as we watched the replay of the images I had just uploaded for him… “The pride is strong in this one…”
I knew each of the four laps of the course would take around 15 minutes. I spotted the distinctive bright yellow of his shirt in the distance and saw him speeding down the straight to the start of the second lap, right on a very tight bend. Then my heart lurched…
I was grateful for the long lens again… heaving a sigh of relief as the marshals righted his upturned bike and I saw Nick set off again. Eva ran over to tell me he was okay… I watched the yellow speck till it was out of sight, then walked away to find a quiet corner to calm down…
The next three laps were completed in good time and Eva took up her place, ready to start the 5km run as Nick bowled back into the transition area. By this time I was bouncing! Of course, I wasn’t allowed in there… I could see the BBC reporter with him, Heather… other people… “Go ask…” said one of the party… I needed no more encouragement. “Do you think I could go through to see my son?” I asked the member of staff on the gate. “Oh, you mean Nick…” Does everyone know my son?!
I still had to wait while the medics checked him and the reporter and cameras were done… A few minor grazes, no more. Both to Nick and the trike. I wanted a hug. “You’ll get drenched!” He was right. I did. I didn’t care.
Over to the finish line to wait for Eva. We didn’t have long to wait! Then hugs all round for the team… a kidnapped banana raised in triumph… more photographs…a brief chat with another Paralympian who wanted to meet Nick… and the race was over. We could breathe again.
It had been incredible, start to finish. A huge event, with many participants. I would like to know all their stories… to talk to them, share them… There is a shared spark of something extraordinary in all of them. Nick does not call it courage… just living with what ‘is’ … but doing so with passion. Eva said the same of her work and I can attest to the difference that passion makes.
These, it seemed, were all passionate people and from that depth of being, they had found focus, direction and an indefinable quality that is fierce and knows joy, but is quiet and doesn’t scream its triumphs. ‘Awesome’ is an overused word these days. Here, it applied perfectly.
Had that been the end of the day, it would have been enough. Wind down with ice cream, face painting and burgers…obviously in that order… talk a bit… cool off… then of course, what would you do after completing a triathlon? You would obviously find a climbing wall… Minutes later the team was harnessed and ready… all three of them.
The Health and Safety devotees who had once berated Nick for tackling stairs with more than adequate help would have had heart failure. I just grinned like an idiot and grabbed the camera…
By the time they had done, there really was only one thing on their mind… and we headed over to the massage tent. Nick waited in the sun while the girls were worked over, then melted into the massage table while two therapists took a leg each…
That wasn’t the end of it either. I’d done okay up to that point, apart from the one blip when Nick had turned the trike and taken out the cameraman. “We should have got a photo of us all standing together,” said Heather. So we waited for Eva and her gorgeous daughter to come back from their bike ride and we got those pictures… then the girls and Nick walked from the field of victory together.
I went to get the car before I cracked completely. I may as well have not bothered… seeing the three of them standing together waiting for me just did it, and as I hugged Eva and Heather, I was a soggy mess. But that’s okay too. Some tears are just liquid joy.
On the way home, the BBC Online article went live. Once home we again had to wait for the iPlayer to watch this evening’s BBC news feature about the Para-Tri event… the link is here for those who can watch it. The BBC will send me the clips at some point and I will post them.
We also checked the total on the campaign. Nick chose to raise awareness and funds for the UK Acquired Brain Injury Forum that provides crucial information and support for all those affected by brain injury, whether traumatic or caused by illness. The total, as I write, stands at an incredible £2,427. The campaign is still open for another three days to allow final donations to be made. Even so, this total is simply amazing. Thank you!
The support that has been shown is beyond words. Thank you seems such a small way of expressing what it means and what a difference it can make, both to Nick’s chosen charity and to my son himself. So, what next? Well, Nick seems to have designs on the London to Brighton bike ride…