Hetta Brown, 50, was involved in a very serious car accident when she was 22 in South Africa. She fractured her femur, suffered multiple pelvic fractures, skull fracture and lung injuries. She underwent six operations and it took 18 months to walk without help.
Why did you take up cycling?
I took up cycling because it’s a low impact sport. For me, there was never any other option but to make the most of the ability to get back up and carry on. My advice is to never give up and focus on the end goal. There are hard times in between, but they will make you stronger.
I am fully fledged South African and came to the UK for the first time in 1994 on a three month backpacking holiday. I stayed and married my English husband in 1996.
Are you sporty?
I’ve always done a lot of sport. We were very fortunate to have our own badminton court growing up, so I started with that. At school, I moved on to athletics, hockey and tennis and represented my region in shot-put and discus. In high school, I also started windsurfing.
After my accident, I started playing golf as I wasn’t sure about the movement I would have for tennis. However, I was able to return to tennis and took squash and running up. When I came to the UK I took up scuba diving too, which is where I met my husband. I always did a bit of cycling as a child and my most active sport now is limited to cycling, sailing and the odd bit of windsurfing.
Tell us more about your accident and road to recovery
I was 22 in my third year at College when the accident happened. Afterwards, I was so weak that I couldn’t walk and then had to build strength again. I found that some muscle groups started to compensate for others, and I still feel some of that weakness today. My knees and hip are now arthritic – luckily not bad enough to stop me from cycling but running and squash are out now, unfortunately. I do suffer with my seat position when I am sitting on the bicycle as my pelvis has not grown back together straight, so one side is lower than the other and therefore under more pressure. One leg is also slightly shorter than the other, but I can get away with a couple of shims between my shoe and cleat. My legs were also totally locked up after I left the hospital and I could not bend them as the muscles had tightened so much. I had to go for lots of very painful physio to stretch them out again, but I don’t have the same flexibility that I had before. Mentally I sometimes think about how much it might hurt if I fell off, but I love a bit of speed and try and put those thoughts out of my mind as soon as they pop up.
After the initial recovery goals and getting back to normal life, it was a case of going for whatever I wanted to do and not being put off by my experience. My Mum brought me brochures of new cars while I was still in hospital, basically saying to me that not driving again was not an option, and to also help me to move on mentally.
What are your goals for 2018?
For 2018 my goals are very much cycling related. I have signed up for the Dulux Trade London Revolution in May, the Dragon Ride in June, and the L’ Etap du Tour in France in July, ahead of Deloitte Ride Across Britain in September. Deloitte Ride Across Britain is actually a birthday present from my family for my 50th in April. I have always wanted to do LEJOG and there’s simply no better way than with Deloitte Ride Across Britain.
I’ve been a bit unwell with other illnesses over the last few years. I have adult onset asthma and more recently also been diagnosed with Barrett’s Oesophagus. Both affect your breathing and have led to frequent chest infections. It put a bit of a dampener on my activities, but it all seems under control now and I have a goal to lose about four stone leading up to Deloitte Ride Across Britain.
As I am getting older I realise more and more that it is very important for me to get stronger again and get my weight down to make it easier on my joints, especially given the injuries that I have had. So focusing on Ride Across Britain is giving me that motivation and inspiration. My family is really supportive of me doing this and do what they can to allow me the time to train etc.
What do you think is going to be the most challenging aspect of Deloitte Ride Across Britain?
I am not great at the short steep inclines – they are so draining – so the first few days will be a challenge for me. I am happy with longer steady climbs, although I’m not the fastest to the top. I’m looking forward to meeting other people, socializing and having fun while enjoying the beautiful views. And to riding every mile of the route. The sense of achievement when you get to the end is worth all the pain and suffering along the way.
Hetta is fundraising for the Princes Trust