Tuesday 29 August 2017
Robert Groves is a disabled man with a mission: to fight preconceived ideas of what is possible for someone who is paralysed below the waist, and raise awareness about many societal issues including climate change and the environment.
As a former body builder, cyclist and health club owner, I was a very active person. However, when an accident eleven years ago resulted in me becoming partially paralysed I thought my days of being active were behind me.
When I first became paralysed I didn’t leave the house for three years. I didn’t want to even sit in a wheelchair – I’d throw it against a wall if anyone brought it near! It was only when a friend tricked me into going to the London Paralympics (by telling me we were going fishing) that I saw other people like me.
It was after seeing Karen Darke cross the finish line hand-cycling that really motivated me. At this point in my life I was 17 stone and in a dark place. I wanted to escape the wheelchair and the bike gave me that freedom and independence. I’d always been more of an endurance athlete and wanted to get back out and see places I’d never seen. So, in 2014 I got a hand-cycle and never looked back.
Before embarking on my latest challenge I have hand-cycled from London to Brighton; completed a 24 hour endurance race at Thruxton Motor Circuit in which I qualified for a race across America in 2017, Ride100. I have also hand-cycled from Scotland to London (600 miles) in 5 days, raising £12,000 for charity.
My latest challenge was hand-cycling the coastline of England (2,500 miles) in just 27 days. I did this to demonstrate what disabled people can do and raise awareness of our dying oceans. My original plan was to finish and be greeted by the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street and hand over a petition about the need to teach climate change as a compulsory subject in schools in England. However because of security reasons I had to finish the race at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, along with the other cyclists who joined me for the last section of my tour. Unknown and unaware to me, collecting and getting people to sign the petition (over 100.000 people signed the petition) became a political statement. I just wanted to show what people can do, how disabled and non-disabled people can use the roads and can ride alongside each other and show the damage that is being done to the nation’s coastline.
My latest adventure included highs and lows. The journey which started in Brighton pier on 2 July took me through the beautiful mountains of Snowdonia and all the way to Blackpool. I met many people along the way including an 8 year old boy Jack whose father flew him from Hong King to take part in the ride. Some people on the roads thought I was a geek in a fancy bike, despite the number plate on the back of the bike which described me as a disabled person. Although I don’t like the sign drawing attention to the fact I’m disabled, it is there for my protection. This however did not stop some motorist throwing a can of coke at me whichended up with me in a ditch. Other lows were tyre punctures, cars almost running me off the road, people insulting me and my computer system malfunctioning because it got soaked in rain.
Despite this I love hand cycling. It gives me my independence back, full control and the ability to go wherever I want to go. I now have the freedom that the wheelchair doesn’t give me. I loved the school visits too. I went to one school and saw a young boy about seven or eight years’ old who was in a wheelchair. His eyes lit up when he saw me and he was racing around alongside my hand cycle. His school is even fundraising now for him to get a hand cycle like mine. That’s the really rewarding side of what I did. It’s been about showing what disabled people can do. That you can get active. That you can have hope.
You really need to know what you are doing before embarking on challenges like this. I was a nutritionist at a health club for seventeen years. Your nutrition should always be the starting point – good healthy food that can develop your muscles. I was a member of a mainstream cycle club for three years. I learned a lot there in terms of road sense. You learn about pot holes, T-junctions, traffic, lorries etc. and how to become more confident on the road.
Although I did not get to meet the PM, the 109,000 signatures that I collected were delivered by UPS to the Prime Minister. My success has evidenced what disabled people can achieve alongside their non-disabled peers. Robert knew he achieved his success with support from non-disabled people and organisations like Stoke Mandeville and Halfords who raised thousands of Pounds along the way.
This isn’t the last you’ll hear from me either. At 61 I am already planning my next adventures, including a cycle ride from Washington DC to Los Angeles – almost 3,000 miles. Dover to Germany and possibly doing things in Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and New Zealand. I’d love to visit some Asian countries too. And I have a book coming out next year called One Man, One Bike.