Dunno about your life, but mine has a habit of throwing up some incredible highs and some immensely traumatic lows. This last week has seen highs and lows in overdrive.
Let me wind the clock back just eight days.
I got in from Stage 109 to find Fluffy cat huddled up against the skirting board behind a chair in the living room. Her breathing was laboured. Jane came in about an hour later and she was still there. We phoned the vet, and they asked us to take her into Kilmarnock as it was likely that they would need to do tests, and they don’t have the facilities to do that in Stewarton.
We took Fluffy in and left her to have Xrays. That was at tea time. Thursday is our yoga night but with a phone call expected once the Xrays had been done, we gave it a miss. We were back in there at seven o’clock. Fluffy almost certainly had a tumour on her lung. We were stunned. Only a few days before, she’d been collecting leaves for Jane and bringing them home. She’s been collecting sticks, leaves and tree bark for all of the eleven years that she’s been with us. The news was difficult to take in.
But if that was a hammer blow, then her rapid decline over the weekend was even more so. The rest of the family had gone about their daily business when I got up on Monday morning and poor Fluffy, who’d been sleeping under our bed, could barely move. As upsetting as it was, her time had come.
I was basically a wreck for the rest of the day, and going out on the bike was the last thing on my mind. But I haven’t come through the last six years without having found some special way of marking lives lost to cancer so I rode eleven miles, one for each of the years that she spent with us. Never the friendliest of cats (sic) Fluffy was the one cat that no other cat in the neighbourhood would dare approach. Affection was strictly by appointment on her terms, and if you did happen to overstep the mark, you risked losing an arm. But for all that, she was both beautiful and characterful, and we’ll miss her loads.
I know she was only a cat, but as far as this bike ride goes, Ride2Cure2 must go on, especially as its focus is to stick two fingers up to cancer, so on Tuesday I took on a brutal wind and headed out straight into it along the coast. Those are the days when you just repeat to yourself “one more mile, one more mile…” about ten times, before it’s finally time to turn for home. I nailed a big one. Wednesday’s route was similarish, but with one or two tweaks here and there. The feature of the gig was an attempt on the 1.3 mile technical segment from the bridge under the A78 at Barassie to the car park at Shewalton Woods. Strava had the King Of The Pensioners at 5m 55s. But that segment’s a strange one because it involves crossing the railway line at the back of the Caledonian Paper Mill. That in itself isn’t an issue because trains only run on that single track line whenever there’s a blue moon: it’s the gates on either side of the crossing you’ve to be careful of, and I ran into both of them cos I was pushing a wee bit too hard. But despite those wee mishaps, I ripped up the standings, and from being barely in the top ten pensioners a month ago, Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma is now a whopping 34 seconds clear at the top of the leaderboard. I like that. I like that a lot. And that’s on a relatively sedate bike.
All of which brings me to yesterday: HMP Shotts.
To recap, I was asked by a lady at Lardy’s 50th if I’d be interested in talking to the PTI team at Shotts, with a view to possibly talking to the prisoners about Ride2Cure. That talk happened a few weeks ago, and yesterday’s gig was the icing on the proverbial cake.
28 prisoners came to listen to my story.
50 prisoners came to attempt the 2222km Ride2Cure Challenge yesterday.
We had 15 spin bikes arranged in a big circle in the gym hall. It was the ultimate huddle. And we had a maximum of 8 hours to ride those 2222km between the lot of us. Organised into teams of three or four to a bike, the task was for each team member to rattle off what they could, at a high tempo, before handing over to the next guy. And while you were in recovery, you were free to wander off and talk to the guys in the other teams and compare notes. And eat. The bananas and the fruit just kept on coming on trolleys. And the juice.
It was friggin’ epic.
One prisoner, who later told me is serving 14 years, said to me after a couple of hours “just look at these boys, Stevie. They’re no’ in the jail today, they’re having a day out at the gym.”
Another prisoner came up to me later on and said “Stevie (they all called me Stevie), I’ve been in here for nine and a half years and I’ve never been on a bike until today. I wanted to do this because I loved your story.” That boy banged in over twenty miles, and he was working out with a skipping rope between sessions on the wheels.
It was suggested to me that the average sentence of the guys on that challenge yesterday was ten years. Some of them were serving life terms. But to me they weren’t prisoners, they were guys who had stepped forward to support research into neuroblastoma. The guys sponsored themselves and their mates in order to make yesterday happen, and whilst I haven’t got the final total yet, it’s been suggested they that’ve probably raised hundreds of pounds through their efforts. The prisoners at Shotts will have raised more money in one day than I’ve managed to raise in over a year on the outside.
Not only that, the Governor was so impressed when he came to visit after about three hours, that I asked if I could return on a regular basis to cycle with the guys in the gym, not as a fundraiser, but as a personal motivator. You know that old saying “If you don’t ask, you don’t get…” The governor said yes.
We had eight hours to complete that challenge yesterday: the guys did it in five. One of the teams racked up 112 miles in four and a half hours: I can tell you now, those guys were totally going for it the whole time: I was so proud of them. I was proud of every one of the fifty guys. They put in such a shift.
So at the end of a week that has shown me the lowest of lows, and I’ve publicly shed a river load of tears, yesterday took this journey to a whole new place.
Thank you to the prisoners and staff of HMP Shotts. Until the next time…