There are lies, more lies, and then there are statistics. According to statistics, but also depending on who you read, more than 75% of people have already broken their new year’s resolutions. Luckily for you and me, the bicycle does not judge and it will not hold it against you. This is the story of the lies and statistics that shaped my early childhood. Fortunately, these statistics (and lies) did not shape my life!
This is me as a little boy in Colombia where I grew up. I got my first bike at the age of two. It was the beginning of a love affair that would prove to last a lifetime. I would cycle on the dirt roads and in the streets day in and day out. Little did I know that cycling would take me on various adventures, open up new possibilities and even help me to find my wife!
The problem with statistics is that there is always a very small chance that you can be amongst those people for whom the statistics does not ring true. Learning to cycle is widely accepted as being very easy for most people. Unfortunately, when I first started out, I was on the wrong side of the statistics. I would fall almost every time I went out. I could not keep my balance and always felt dizzy. At one point, I had more scars than friends. Even so, cycling was my escape. Colombian locals today, still remember me as the boy who cycled with a helmet bigger than my bicycle, and then kept doing it while asking for fruits at every house on the road.
My first experiences of school were not very positive. As a matter of fact, I cannot remember most of them. I know what happened because of the stories that I have been told by family, friends, teachers, etc. The ‘people-in-the-know’ more than once told my parents that I was completely stupid and with no solid future. Well, if my parents believed them, and decided to lower their expectations for their son, then this would be the end of the story. As a matter of fact, I probably would not be writing this. After all, according to statistics ‘people-in-the-know’ are (almost) always correct!
Luckily I was blessed by having parents that were utterly committed to my development and growth as a person. They did not accept the opinion of ‘those-in-the-know’ and went as far afield as the USA to find the root of my ‘stupidity’ and cycle balancing problems. Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends used up significant savings and also had to raise money for me to be able to go and be seen by a specialist.
It was discovered that I had Meniere’s disease… an illness that affects the middle ear, hence the problems with hearing and balance. It was not stupidity after all. I had to get hearing aids in both ears. I also had to control this affliction through a specific and rigorous diet.
After discovering the root of the problem, life was a bit better and cycling became more enjoyable than ever. Even so, life was still not easy. I was often teased because of my hearing aids (which at the time were also bigger than my ears) and I had a lot of catch up to do academically. I often came home with a purple nose and bloody sleeves from being in fights. Even so, my bike was there, and after school, no matter how horrible the day, I could climb on it and leave all my worries behind.
Fast forward 30 years, and I am living in Edinburgh now. I still cycle every day and I got a PhD in Civil Engineering at Imperial College London a few years back. I still remember the faces of ‘the-people-in-the-know’ when they saw me arrive back home with a PhD diploma from one of the top ten universities in the world.
Through it all, my bike was there. When I first arrived in London after winning a partial scholarship and being heavily in debt, I did not have enough money for public transport. I would spend 2 hours each day cycling from the university and back at crazy hours while I completed my postgraduate studies. My English was not that good and nobody could understand me very easily. Everything was so different and when things got too much, I had my bike. And it is still there, now helping me (and you) to give back and make others have a better life.
I am now in the final and ever increasing training phase for my epic Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) journey. After lots and lots of reading, preparation, and discussions with those ‘in-the-know’ all my training plans are completed. Everything I need to do from now on until the day I dismount from my bicycle in John O’Groats has been planned to the last detail. Neat little charts and daily exercise routines all set out. From here onwards, these charts and plans will dictate my life. I hope to give all of you avid cyclists and non-cyclists out there the reality. It is going to get tough. Things might get in the way, stuff can happen. I might have to deal with illness or (God forbid) injury. I do not promise anything, but statistically speaking (and you now know how much I believe in statistics!), I have a good record when it comes to overcoming challenges. In fact, my success rate is very high. Sounds promising, won’t you agree?
As you can see, I have first-hand experience of how illness can hamper the chances of children. My disease is not as devastating as Polio and yet it really had a big impact on my life. Because of the help I received, I was able to grow up to reach my full potential. How many children have been confined to a life of misery and hardship unable to reach their full potential due to the devastation caused by Polio? This should not be happening!
I want to live in a world where children can have a real chance. To end Polio would mean that we have succeeded to create a better world. So, get off your seat and donate! Support me, support this worthy cause. Do something good today, help to End Polio Now!