Keen cyclist Antony Read is used to blunt questions from children.
“I just tell them I have a special leg because it isn’t an issue to me. It never has been,” he says.
Indeed, it didn’t slow him down at all last weekend, when he was one of a group of 12 YMCA East Surrey fundraising Challengers who cycled 175 miles from Redhill to the Eiffel Tower in Paris in just 24 hours.
Antony, 58, lost his right leg below the knee in a motorcycling accident near East Surrey Hospital when he was 23. He now has a small range of different prosthetic limbs which allow him to live life to the full; walking, running and cycling.
Following the event, Salfords’ resident, Antony said: “I wanted to prove I could do it and prove that amputees can do anything they want to. It was a fantastic Challenge – we tackled deep flood waters next to the Seine, where the river had come up as high as the road, and hit the tail end of a carnival coming into Paris, but overall it was probably easier than I had expected. We had just one puncture in our immediate group of five and, other than a croaky voice from shouting too much, I finished in good shape.”
Antony had already run two marathons when he lost his leg. His immediate motivation was not only to get back on his feet and run, but to aim for completing another marathon.
“The technology wasn’t good enough back then though,” he says. “I was running after three years, but the prosthetics I had weren’t suitable. If I was going to enter a marathon, I wanted to complete it in under 4 hours 30 minutes. Just when I’d given up hope, they developed carbon fibre legs and in 1999 I ran the London Marathon in 4 hours 6 minutes.”
Antony, who works for local software company, Monotype, went on to run a further five marathons but in November 2011 had to have further surgery to replace his left hip and stopped real distance running.
“My overall health is fantastic now,” he says. “I still run – I completed the YMCA’s 5-mile Fun Run in May in 48 minutes – but two wheels have always been the love of my life. I have a shed full of motorbikes and cycling is a passion.”
The YMCA Paris challenge was split into three groups who tackled the distance in either one, two or three days and in total 56 cyclists took part. The one-day group left Redhill at 6pm on Friday 3rd June and took a ferry from Newhaven at midnight. They resumed their ride at 5am the next day and finally reached the Eiffel Tower at 4:25pm that afternoon.
The gritty Challengers have so far raised £21,000 for YMCA East Surrey’s Inclusive Sports Facility – a new, multi-purpose disability sports, fitness and wellbeing centre – and the total is still increasing.
The new facility will welcome people of all ages and abilities and the charity’s aim is to inspire and support those least likely to participate in, but with most to gain from, physical activity, encouraging them to be active and healthy. This is a cause close to Antony’s heart.
“A lot of people in general – not just those with disabilities – don’t realise what they can do. It’s really important to offer them all the encouragement they need. Many amputees become more active after losing a limb as they have more to prove. I think I would have been just as driven if I hadn’t had my accident, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have had so much fun.”
“I want to inspire other people to get out there and challenge themselves. I tell them that you can achieve anything in life, but you’ve got to want it.”
If you would like to support Antony in his fundraising venture, he has set up a Virgin Money Giving page at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AntonyRead