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Post-RAAM: Hils recovery

Safely home, mega jet lag and exhaustion but it was great to be back with my family, and have further good news about my RAAM cycling partner Hilary Webber (Hils) She has made a fantastic recovery since her serious biking accident in West Virginia on 23rd June and having been joined by her daughter and discharged from hospital they are planning a return to the UK. I guess in no small way, that her astonishing transformation after her serious accident five days earlier is down to her overall fitnesslevel. Those broken bones will be sore for some while.


Hils and daughter after being dismissed from hospital

This year we were the oldest team, and the only female 4 person team completing in the 3070 mile Race across America. With 76 teams in total, solo riders, two person, 4 person or 8 person, we had only had 9 days to ride Race across America, 3017 miles cycling day and night.  We relayed in terms of 2 riders going out to ride for approximately six hours, cycling approximately one hour on, one hour off. The non-rider sitting in the support vehicle.  We had two support cars and a RV (recreation vehicle) in which the four riders and ten crew members eat and sleep for a few hours. During day time one support car is within a mile or two of the rider but not directly following. At night, 7.00pm, to 7 am a support vehicle follows the rider at a clearly defined distance `within 20 feet’, giving light. In terms of relay, our wheels have to cross before the outgoing rider takes off – in day time this can be quite fast if we get our judgement and safety factors right, but at night we both have to be stationary at the take off point.


That night, Hils and I had ridden about 60miles and I was ending my last stint of our six hours. I could just see a lightness in the sky over to the left, and a bright, by now lessthan full moon to the right.  And as Hils and I crossed over wheels I remember shouting, `you’re so lucky – you have got the dawn’. Off she went, and once my bike was back on the no 2 support car, we overtook her and the following support vehicle to meet up with the RV, some 20+ miles ahead. Then we got the first message that Hils had had a fall. Paul our driver quickly set about a turnaround, not easy on a motorway, but we finally got to a point some 200 metres further on from the accident. White and blue lights were flashing, and emergency vehicles clearly at the scene. Paul took my bike down and off I cycled to finish our stage.


Amazing dawn while riding

Ironically I then had the most incredible ride for 45 minutes (17.3k) riding climbing 470 metres at a fairly good pace – for me! The dawn chorus was loud and clear, despite my deafness and radio earplug in one ear, enabling contact with the support vehiclebehind me. Finally I reached the RV and Hilary and Margaret. One immediately took off with support vehicle behind and the other one prepared to get into the support B car. Although light by now, it was not yet 7.00am when the RAAM rules to follow within 20 ft end.


Only then did I hear the severity of Hils’ injuries and learn that she had been unconscious for a while, her bike wheels telling a horrendous story. I heard too the shocked state of the incredible driver who narrowly missed an even worse accident and her navigator, Ruth, fortunately a nurse. I was distressed and tearful when I rang my son back in the UK to report that I was safe, as I knew they were tracking us. Riders and crew were now at day 8, feeling the impact of sleep deprivation that I had experienced when I crewed 13 years ago. I just could not continue, knowing a tough 350 miles lay ahead, with only three riders, one of whomwas also is some pain from an earlier fall. I said “I just cannot go on”. I knew Hils wouldn’t have wanted me to make that decision, - a decision that was relayed to Margaret and Hilary, out on the road ahead, that brought the team to stop.


Then our fantastic media team Kristin’s Slackline Productions offered to drive me back to the hospital in Parkersburg where Hils had been taken– just across the OhioRiver that I had crossed. There we found her and Ruth. Hils was barely conscious,breathing with support, and she looked awful with bandages and blood everywhere. Continuing X rays were revealing multiple fractures.


Getting excellent care in ICU

When she was transferred to another larger private hospital in Morgantown it was for availability of wider expertise, radiology etc. I sat in the front of the large ambulance, chatting for hours to the driver about privatised health provision – was it $ or patient driven? The impact of the pharmaceutical industry and the extent of illegal drug related accidents that their emergency ambulance services are picking up. We reflected on the stores we had passed through on the highways, and the prevalenceof fast food, pharmacies and law firms.


I remained with Hils then for 4 days sleeping erratically in a chair alongside. That third night was very fraught for her, with insufficient pain relief being offered. I challenged nurses to contact a doctor to prescribe an increase in her medication. Four times they told me they had tried. Finally after a telephone call to my daughter, I demanded to see a doctor, even mentioned a possible complaint. Suddenly the permissionto give morphine appeared on line, and Hils finally slept, pain free.


Her daughter was on her way out and Hils began to make a dramatic recovery- it was so great to see. Finally I said goodbye and travelled to JFK airport, New York, for theflight home.  It had been such a tough few days for Hils, as around eight medical teams assessed and managed the problems within their individual area of expertise.


But it was great to hear the support and appreciation the Serpentine Golden Girls received at the final award giving ceremony. OK, we were just over 300 miles short of the finish. A RAAM official at around 42nd of the 52 Time Stations had read out to me fromhis records that our estimated time of arrival was now 6.00am on 24th June, some 8 hour ahead of the cut off time.


SGG standing ovation

Maybe I made the wrong decision, for which I apologise to all. But as the oldest team and the only 4 person womens team, we made our mark on healthier ageing. Our support of Silverfit charity has raised over £1000. It was an incredible experience, and my enduring thanks to Hils, Margaret and Hilary, our incredible, patient, versatile crew of Brian, (Just Sweat No Tears) his wife Stacey, Paul, Ruth, Jo, Meghan Alisha, Laur,Carol and James for their unbelievable commitment patience and support,. We had the honour of Kristin Duffy’s SlacklineProduction throughout as our media team,with Rob and McKenzie. We look forward to their film and the messages therein about four older women cycling across America.


(Eddie Brocklesby)

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