Rachel crouched over a noisy hand dryer in the ladies loo so nobody could hear her sobs, following her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in late 2013. Naturally a private person, she was forced to grieve in a very public place, as she worked full time as a research scientist at the University of Manchester.
Fast forward four years and there were tears again, but now happy tears, as she proudly completed the gruelling 9 day cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats, whilst raising funds for the MS Society.
Jokingly, she now describes her condition as “MS light” although the unwelcome news years previously, had dealt a very heavy blow. Then In her early 50s, she had forged a successful career at the university, whilst simultaneously raising a family.
Back in 2013, a lumbar puncture and MRI scan had confirmed her diagnosis following some sensory symptoms in her hands. Thinking back to her bleary reflection in the mirror of the ladies loo Rachel continues;
“It was two years until I felt able to see the world, speak to people. My first reaction was that I don’t want anyone to know, didn’t want to talk about it because I was just crying a lot. My husband had said, ‘I don’t want you to stop living’ and that’s exactly what I did do- I stopped living.
“My husband, Hugh, had taken up cycling years before. I had watched him go out riding while I had my Sunday mornings in bed.
“Two years of doing nothing and being miserable and i thought I needed to start doing something. So I ummed and I ahhed and anyway I bought a bike. That was July 2016 and I’ve been cycling ever since”.
Rachel and Hugh signed up for the Lands End to John O’Groats ride the following year. They embarked on an ambitious 16 week training programme and in the July, headed to the far southwest to the start. Rachel continues;
“On day seven of Lands End to John O’Groats, I had not been well in the night. It’s over 100 miles a day and it was my hardest day (cycling on an empty stomach) but I was rewarded with a fabulous descent in Scottish afternoon sunlight. I loved it, the fact that I could do it”.
Exhausted and emotional, they reached the finish line two days later, raising over £2000 for the MS Society.
“I now cycle three days a week to work, so 60 miles a week commuting and then whatever at the weekends. I have done over 2 1/2 thousand miles this year! My physical and mental health have improved greatly.
“I love not being defined by or restricted by my MS. Bizarrely, if it wasn’t for MS, I wouldn’t have cycled and done all these things. It’s been my recovery, my salvation. I’m nothing special. We all deal with it in different ways”.