A Snowdonia man who lost the ability to walk has found a way to keep moving – and is putting it to use on an inspiring grand adventure.
Brain damage means that Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Justin Kendell can't walk further than half a kilometre. But on July 2, 2016, he sets off from the foot of Snowdon in North Wales, to cycle 2,200km in a five-week trip to the Pyrenees in southern France. "I have limited feeling in my legs, so I don't know where they are all the time. Even if they're a little bit tired, they have a life of their own," says 45-year-old Justin. "And that makes it very difficult to walk. It was my daughter, Sioned, who persuaded me to get back on my bike. I was full of doubt but she pushed me to try – and it was wonderful! It was amazing to be able to move and not feel like I was about to fall over at any moment. And I could ride where I couldn't walk anymore – and the trees, the birds and butterflies, they were all still there! I don't know if having ridden a bike for so many years meant I still have the muscle memory left to pedal, or it's just that the brain damage I have doesn't affect it. I can't explain it. My neurologist can't explain it. But I'm making the most of it!"
Justin will be riding from his teenage stomping ground of the mountains of Snowdonia to the Pyrenees mountains close to his current home in Aveyron, southern France. He leaves from the iconic Pen-y-Gwryd hotel, where the 1953 Everest team stayed during their training, on July 2. 22 day-long stages are planned, the longest covering 175km, the day with the most elevation involving 1,720m of uphill climb. Accompanying him will be his daughter Sioned, and friend, Martin Hill. "I can get to the point where I am pretty much completely paralysed from the waist down by the time I get off my bike, which can be quite startling for bystanders!" says Justin.
Justin is raising funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, and hopes his ride will inspire others with potentially life-impairing conditions to think about what they can do, rather than focusing on the things they can't manage anymore. "I'm really hoping that people will come and join in a bit of the ride," says Justin. "I'd love to meet some new people along the way, especially if there's some reason why they can't do everything they used to be able to too."
Multiple sclerosis is a condition which damages the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, disrupting the ability of the nervous system to communicate with other parts of the body. "The disease affects everybody in different ways," says Justin. "I find it hard to balance and it affects my vision and co-ordination. How I can still ride a bike is a mystery to everyone! But training for the trip – I ride 300km every week – keeps me mentally and physically as strong as I can be. I love having a reason to get up in the morning, and a reason to keep training when my illness wants me to stop. And pushing myself gives me new opportunities to understand my symptoms, and finding ways to live with them more easily."