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A long ride back to health

We often hear people saying that they are buying an e-bike to help them lose some weight or just get fitter. For others, the health benefits are far greater. Jim White's first experience of riding an electric bike was during his recovery after suffering a stroke. We caught up with Jim to find out more.


For Jim health and fitness were an integral part of his lifestyle, having served 24 years in the Grenadier Guards. While many people know the Grenadier Guards for their role in ceremonial marches, as one of the oldest infantry regiments in the British Army they have taken a central role in major conflicts including the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq. For a Guardsman fitness is essential and can literally be a matter of life and death. After leaving the Army Jim remained active, doing a lot walking in his leisure time and always exceeding 10,000 steps in his role looking after disruptive pupils within a high school. Being so active, what happened next was particularly unexpected.


Above: Jim served 24 years in the Grenadier Guards.


"I was 58 years old, 1 month short of 59. I awoke to go to work and it was my wife who noticed something was wrong," explains Jim. "She was asking me questions and at the time I was mumbling answers, although I thought my speech was OK."


Jim's wife got him to sit down and noticed the classic stroke signs of his face dropped on one side, weakness in the arms and slurred speech. "I was taken under blue lights to Preston Royal Hospital about 20 minutes away. On arrival the stroke team immediately descended on me," recalls Jim.


Even with the rapid intervention of a specialist stroke team, the after effects of the stroke were far reaching. "My initial physical problems were a loss of the normal use of my left leg, arm and hand. My face collapsed on the right hand side and my speech had gone completely to an incoherent mumble," remembers Jim. "Thanks to the swiftness of receiving treatment my face returned to its normal gorgeous self. My hand and arm also returned to normal. However, my leg, although walkable, had a constant ache a bit like permanent cramp."


Jim's speech had deteriorated to an extent that he required speech therapy. "I underwent a course learning to speak again, which I have managed," said Jim. "Although I still mumble if tired or over strained."


Despite his previous high level of fitness the stroke left Jim with very little energy. "I couldn't empty a dish washer, hoover a small room, or change a quilt without sitting down for a break. I was breathless and couldn't walk any distance without needing a break. I was even breathless just crossing the road."


Given the severity of Jim's symptoms taking up cycling would seem like the last thing anyone would recommend. "Seven months after the stroke a researcher from UCLAN (University of Central Lancashire) came to a stroke group meeting that I was attending. UCLAN was undertaking a trial to see if the use of an e-bike could help stroke survivors in their recovery. I volunteered and, after a medical and getting the go-ahead from my own doctors, enrolled to take part," explained Jim.


I Cycle Electric provided a range of electric bikes and tricycles to the UCLAN trial. "Nick from I Cycle Electric showed us the ropes, explaining how to use it, and delivered the bike to my house," said Jim. "It was the first time I'd been on a bike of any type for 48 years!"


Jim began taking short rides accompanied by his wife on their daughter's regular bike. They soon had their mileage up to 9-10 miles. It wasn't long before Jim started to see the health benefits. "Almost immediately I noticed a difference with my left leg. The medication for the cramp-like symptoms had disappeared and I was able to stop taking tablets for it."


After a lifetime of being fit and healthy experiencing any kind of severe or long term illness can have a negative impact on an individual's mental health as well as their physical health. In Jim's own words: "One of the other problems was falling into a world of anxiety and depression because I had been active all my life, worked since I was 16 and spent 24 years in the Army." Becoming active again helped Jim deal with the anxiety and depression: "My mood started to change. I looked forward to going out every day with my wife, enjoying the summer weather and the countryside near where we live."


"Unfortunately the trial came to an end after 8 weeks," Jim explains. "I handed the bike back and had an end of trial medical to see how being active had impacted on my health." Jim's lung capacity showed a significant increase, along with improvements in his all round health. "I was able to join a gym and can do all the things I could do before the stroke," says Jim.


Perhaps the best testament to the benefits of e-biking is what happened next. "My wife and I both agreed that we needed to buy a bike each," explains Jim. "We went back to Nick at I Cycle Electric and bought 2 electric bikes that we now take away in our caravan."


 Above: Jim powering ahead of his wife.


And were there any downsides to discovering e-bikes? "The only drawback was over the period of the trial I was now well in front of my wife and having to wait for her, especially after some the hills," says­ Jim, laughing.


We'd like to thank Jim for sharing his experience with us and wish both him and his family many more years of happy and safe e-biking.

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