Cyclist Paul Rattew, 34, from King’s Cross, London was knocked off his bike by a speeding motorist in London in September 2016 and shattered his right foot. It has been a long, difficult road to recovery but he is riding Dulux Trade London Revolution and Deloitte Ride Across Britain in 2018.
When did you start cycling?
I used to love riding my bike as a kid. It represented freedom – I could go out and see my friends, and we could go off and have adventures without being reliant on parents for a lift. This tailed off though with GCSEs, A’ levels and other interests, primarily rugby, taking priority. I don’t think I cycled at all from the age of 16 until 2010 when I got a hybrid bike on the cycle to work scheme. I lived really close to the office, so it was barely any distance but it was a lot more fun than walking or taking the bus.
I was then extremely lucky to win a road bike, a lovely red and black Pinarello, and from there I slowly became hooked. I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and have always suffered from quite extreme bouts of depression. Cycling was a massive aid in regulating and propping up my mental health.
Why did you decide to do Deloitte Ride Across Britain?
I did RAB for the first time in June 2013, when it was JOGLE. I only got the place in that March so I came into it woefully undertrained, but absolutely loved the experience. Solid headwinds all the way from Glasgow to Land’s End made it doubly challenging but didn’t detract from how amazing everything was. The last day, June 16th, was my 30th birthday and I proposed to my long-term (long-suffering) partner just after the finish line. The sight of me in sweat-soaked cycling kit, standing in a damp windswept field in the drizzle, obviously was too much for her as she said yes.
I enjoyed RAB so much that I promised to come back. Having done it north to south, tackling it the more normal south to north felt like the right way to round things off. Initially I thought of doing it in 2014, but I tore my calf muscle training for the London Marathon and that took a very long time to heal. Then in March 2015 I had a nasty crash on the bike – descending a hill through a village during a sportive a dog ran out into the road and got caught in the spokes of my front wheel. I went flying and landed on my left shoulder, which required surgery to rebuild. I came off better than the dog though.
How did the accident happen?
It was early on a Sunday morning in the first weekend of September. I decided I should kick off my training with a gentle spin down from King’s Cross to Richmond Park for some laps. I was at a junction waiting to turn right off the Chelsea Embankment, I followed the car in front through a gap in the traffic, but I misjudged the speed of the oncoming van, which ploughed through me. The police think he must have been doing considerably more than 50mph on a 30mph road. It was a silly misjudgement by me, a moment of not quite fully concentrating and letting my guard down, which could have been fatal. One moment the van was well off in the distance, the next it was sending me flying through the air.
I landed almost 40 feet from where I was hit. I had enough time, while flying through the air, to be able to think that it was going to be really bad. When I hit the road I just lay there, struggling to get any breath into my lungs and expecting to be run over. It probably took me a minute to realise that I wasn’t about to be run over, and that lying in the middle of the road probably wasn’t the best idea.
Slightly surprised that I was conscious and able to move I shuffled myself backwards onto a pavement and examined the damage. I had got off extremely lightly. I had scrapes all over, but I somehow hadn’t hit my head at all. My left knee had a short, deep, gouge that was bleeding freely, and my right foot was facing the complete wrong way. All in all, I was pretty happy, considering.
What injuries did you sustain?
I was rushed to the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, with the remains of my bike beside me in the ambulance (sadly, the frame was shattered in a much more terminal way than my body). Apart from the right ankle there was no serious damage. The ankle though was a mess. The talus bone had completely shattered, I had a number of smaller minor fractures to the surrounding bones, and a lot of the ligaments and tendons had been torn.
They operated to remove a lot of the shards and to glue and screw what was left of the bone back together. There was no space on any of the normal wards, so I got to spend a week on one of the private wards – a bit like being in a decent hotel with good food and lots of drugs.
The damage to the bone and the surrounding tissue, especially the blood supply to the bones, was extensive enough that the surgeons thought that there was only a 60:40 chance of the bones surviving and me being able to keep my foot. Happily, the orthopaedics team at the Chelsea and Westminster are amazing and did a brilliant job.
What did your recovery involve?
Then followed 12 weeks of being completely non-weight bearing and a few months more to get to the point where I didn’t need crutches. Happily, I was able to ride start riding the bike (indoors on the turbo) well before ditching the crutches.
The first time back on the bike was new year’s day, just for 10 minutes of spinning with virtually no resistance, and I very slowly built from there. There were a few setbacks and things didn’t progress all that smoothly for the first half of 2017. I was having lots of problems with my foot and developed an infection, which led to another small surgery on one of my toes at the end of March. This meant that I basically had a month and a half of doing no exercise, so by the end of April I was really depressed at my condition, more so than I had been at any point since the accident.
I was 97 kilos and just felt so far away from any sort of fitness that if I hadn’t have already had a place on the 2018 RAB due to the deferral I would never have believed that I could have ever done anything like that again. Having RAB as a goal has been so important to my recovery from the crash and to getting healthier more generally. I’ve lost 10 kilos since then and hope to lose a good chunk more before the event.
How is it cycling on the roads again now?
To be honest, it was such a relief to be able to get out on the bike that I haven’t really found it frightening at any point. It has made me a lot more paranoid of other traffic, but if I let that be a barrier, living in central London, I would never get on a bike again.
Walking is still painful and I have a considerable limp, so cycling is actually the easiest way for me to get around. I don’t really take the road bike out in London any more though – I’m still not confident to go out and train properly, especially at this time of year when it is dark and the weather is bad. I guess this is just something I am going to have to work through and get over.
What does your training involve?
Most of my training so far has been indoors on the turbo using trainerroad. My bike comes with us whenever my wife and I escape London to visit family. Her family live on the top of a steep hill just outside Lacock in Wiltshire which is an amazing place to ride and great for getting in some proper hill training. I’m hoping to keep up the very structured indoor training and build in more rides outside as the days start to get a bit longer. I’ve lined up various sportives for this year, including Dulux Trade London Revolution, which will hopefully force me to keep my training on track and act as good measures of how it is all going.
Are you looking forward to RAB?
I turned up to the 2013 RAB undertrained and underprepared mentally. I loved it, but found it all a bit overwhelming and I don’t think that I was really able to enjoy it as much as I could have. Apart from the amazing route and beautiful countryside, it really is the people that make it. The Threshold team, Andy [the route director] and the chaperones, all the support staff – they really elevate the event to another level. Add to that all the amazing riders, and it really is something special.
I am hoping that this time I will start a bit better prepared, both physically and mentally, and be able to really enjoy the whole process a lot more. I’m really looking forward to the social side – getting to know so many new people from all different backgrounds and from all around the world. It’s been great so far interacting with fellow riders on the Facebook group, and hopefully, as it gets closer to the event, I will be able to meet up with other riders at sportives and for training rides.
The big fear is that I will have another accident. My ankle is still fragile and a crash could end up damaging it beyond repair. I would hate to get close to the start then have to pull out. One thing I can guarantee though is that if that happens, and if it is at all possible, I will be back.
Join Paul and take on the epic challenge this September: