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Forres joiner David Black cycles takes on three peak L’Étape du Tour cycle challenge to raise funds for Neurology and Neurosurgery Ward at Foresterhill Hospital, Aberdeen

By Garry McCartney

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David at home in Thornhill ... and raring to go again!
David at home in Thornhill ... and raring to go again!

A LOCAL joiner who suffered from a spinal tumour cycled up 5000 metres over three mountain peaks in eight hours for charity.

Father-of-four, David Black (53), from Thornhill has so far raised more than £3000 for Ward 205 Neurology and Neurosurgery at Foresterhill Hospital in Aberdeen, where staff helped him to recover from surgery that could have seen him lose the use of his legs.

He said: “With my family history and all their help, I wanted to give something back. They were also brilliant with my mum who previously had the same tumour and spent time in the same ward. My dad was there too when it was Ward 40!

“I was in for eight or nine days, it’s a bit of a blur. The staff and volunteers are very caring – they sit with you through the night and get you anything you want. My surgeon Peter Bodkin was brilliant. He talked me through everything and explained that there was no guarantee of walking or working again – but I couldn’t work or cycle at the time anyway.”

In 2018, David was enjoying life and keeping fit through cycling when he started feeling aches and pains. After numerous hospital appointments and scans, he was deteriorating with no definite answers. As his mobility got worse, he struggled to walk. Eventually he was admitted to Ward 205 for seven hours of surgery to a benign – but rapidly growing – tumour on his spine.

He said: “Before and after the operation it was a very upsetting time. It was a tough time as I was ill for so long. I had to lie down a lot and was on morphine so I was in a daze.

“After 17 months I got a private consultation in Edinburgh – I had an MRI and they found a tumour. It was actually a relief as MS and other conditions had been suggested before that. They operated in Aberdeen two days later.”

David had a meningioma – a primary central nervous system tumour – removed. He had to remain flat on his back without moving for 72 hours after the operation.

He said: “I was in agony but my wife Josie says I was thrawn anyway! I did physio six times a week when it was only supposed to be twice. Josie helped me onto a bike trainer and I pedalled two or three minutes at first. After eight weeks I was peddling without a push start!”

David did 45 minute sessions of physiotherapy with resistance band at Dr Gray’s Hospital.

“It was very sore,” he said, “and I was sweating buckets. My daughter Kirsty would also take me to Grant Park at 6am to avoid folk seeing me not walking properly. First I did 10 yards, then 20 yards and so on. It took five or six months before I was able to get back on my road bike. At first I was scared to go on the road but it got easier.”

The route map over the three peaks.
The route map over the three peaks.

Nearly four years since being struck down, David set himself the sponsored challenge. L’Étape du Tour (French for “Stage of the Tour”) allows amateur cyclists to race over the same route as a Tour de France stage. The event is held over mountain roads in either the Pyrenees or French Alps. Around 15,000 riders participate on roads closed by the police, with refreshment stops and medical support along the route.

“I’d wanted to ride it for years,” said David, “so last September I started training. I used a smart trainer, spending five or six hours a time on the road. I’d do 150/170km routes around Aviemore, Carrbridge, Tomintoul, Inverness etc five or six days a week. It made me feel healthier to have an aim and I got the fittest I’d been in a long while.”

On Sunday, July 10, David smashed the challenge over Briancon, Col du Galibier, Croix de Fer and finally Alpe d’Huez in the Alps.

Pushing through the pain!
Pushing through the pain!

He said: “The first rider set off at 7am – I was 8.30am. It was 30-33 degrees the whole way. The climbs were up to 30km long with a general five-ten per cent gradient, crazy but beautiful. The French were amazing – out with their hoses soaking us down and encouraging us.

“It was a real mental struggle but the operation and my racing background got me through. My wife was there on an open bus and my daughter Lisa surprised me at the line. It was a very emotional finish!”

A backdrop of spectacular views.
A backdrop of spectacular views.
David's L'Étape du Tour medal.
David's L'Étape du Tour medal.

David was also overwhelmed by support he received on social media after his proud sister Fiona Ritchie posted about his challenge.

He said: “I was humbled by the encouragement and there was no way I couldn’t finish after reading it! People in Forres are great – folk are still congratulating me and even strangers are saying well done!”

David hopes to stay fit and healthy while spending more time with his grand-daughter Avie.

He finished: “I’m always worried that it will come back, the pain around my scar is sometimes unbearable and I lie still at nights and get numbness in my legs... but I’m lucky.

“I hope to go away again next year – the challenge made me feel a lot better.”

Sponsor David at https://friendsoftheneuroward.enthuse.com/pf/david-black?fbclid=IwAR1HzQg8DuVkrt3qtgA8xsAaVcEfg4tPvxe-qAd0xdNgDOPHQwxKSRIcOfQ

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