18 months ago Clare Wallace lost feeling in one leg and got the first inkling that she might have MS. A couple of weeks ago she cycled over 300 miles, raising over £5,000 to support the work of the MS Trust. Here she explains how and why the journey began.
It’s Saturday 1st June 2013 and I am standing in the Grand Place, Brussels. I’m exhausted and my legs are shaking. Nothing unusual there, as I’m currently awaiting my diagnosis for MS and have got used to these feelings over the past 18 months. But this time it’s caused by something very different. I am standing holding my bike above my head, having my photograph taken by my new group of friends. I’ve just finished cycling 335 miles from London to Brussels via Amsterdam and I am full of pride, knowing that I’ve managed to raise over £5,000 for the MS Trust.
So how did I get here? How did I compete a challenge that in my pre-MS days I probably would never have considered, as I would never have thought I was capable of it?
Something inside me had changed
On 14th January 2012 I woke up at home. I had not changed any part of my life, but something inside me had changed. I couldn’t feel my toes but didn’t think too much of it until the next morning when I couldn’t feel all up my right leg. Everything still moved but I had numbness and couldn’t do anything to wake my leg and feet back up again. With the help of an excellent GP I was referred to the local neurologist and two days later was in hospital having scans and tests.
At first no one mentioned MS, it was all about brain tumours and unpronounceable diseases and conditions. They slowly ticked various ailments I had never heard of from the list and with each appointment I was left wondering what was wrong with me as I knew it was not normal. Four months in, and still without any feeling in my toes, I went for a routine check up with my neurologist.
A million and one questions
I’m sitting in the neurologist’s office and she drops the bomb, “I think you have MS”. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. MS? Isn’t that what old people get? Am I going to end up in a wheelchair? Will I be able to do my job? A million and one questions and instead I was sent off wondering what was going on and where do I go next, without any help or support. This is when I found the MS Trust.
My dad contacted them asking what to do. The information from them was brilliant and thanks to them I am now in touch with the MS specialist team at University Hospital Southampton Neurology Department. The Trust continued to send us useful information and in one mailing they snuck in a little poster, a glorious scene of a man on a bike in the sunshine riding past a windmill, asking if anyone wanted to do the 3 Cities Cycle Ride to raise funds for the MS Trust. “Why not?” I thought, “Looks like fun,” and I got straight online and entered. Then I woke up at 3am wondering what I had let myself in for!
I spent a miserable, cold winter training out on my new bike, counting down the days and trying to raise sponsorship. I sat on my bike at local supermarkets for hours on end with collection boxes, amazed at the generosity of people I didn’t know. The months flew past and before I knew it I was sitting on my bike in London for the start of day one.
The first day I climbed hill after hill and traveled over 91 miles from London to Harwich, arriving at the port and sailing overnight to the Hook of Holland. The next three glorious but tiring days were spent pedaling along the cycle paths. First from the Hook of Holland to Amsterdam, covering 60 miles along the coast and through the sand dunes. Then on into Belgium with the longest ride of all, some 117 miles. I have never been so pleased as I was to see the final orange flags highlighting the way and taking me to the hotel in Turnhout for the night! Then the final day, 71 miles to Brussels, with people cheering and clapping as we arrived. We pedaled past canals and windmills alongside the locals, and enjoyed plenty of waffles along the way.
This challenge is the best thing I have ever done. A year ago I would never have thought I would have been capable of completing such a ride and I loved every second of it. I have met some wonderful people along the way, who I hope to call friends for the rest of my life. Many people have told me I have inspired them and they wish they could do something like this. My answer? Go and do it: you will be amazed at what you can achieve. And the best thing about it? Giving something back to those who helped me so much when I needed it the most.