Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Losing the 'shop around the corner'

We had a slight lie-in on Saturday. Thomas Ivor was recovering from his charity triathlon the day before, and the girls had gone to their grandparents for the weekend, so we could get on with some DIY, and thus, unusually by recent standards, I didn't make the Saturday morning 'club ride' from our local shop, Wellingborough Cycles.

By lunchtime, we decided to go out for some fresh air and food (a morning's paint stripping had left us needing both, rather badly) and at the last moment I elected to stop by the bike shop to pick up my new saddle, which was my Christmas present and which I'd been meaning to fetch for about a week.

We passed the shop and it looked busy - the ride must have not long got back, we figured - and so we went for lunch first, before dropping in for my saddle. As I walked in, something didn't feel quite as normal, and turning round, I saw fewer bikes than usual against the wall, and a sign on one saying 'Closing Down Sale'.

'That's another bike brand no longer worth trying to retail on the high street' I thought to myself, dismissing any notion that it was more than that - but at the counter, proprietor Darren's face was ashen. They'd met the accountants during the week, decided it was impossible to continue trading, and announced the shop's closure to the group ride earlier that Saturday morning.

The thing is, it's hard to tell when your local bike shop is in dire straits, because most local bike shops are up against it all the time, these days. Friends in the distribution side of the trade speak of German warehouses mail-ordering products to the UK for less than the 'trade' price, never mind retail. 

Two tragedies hit us, as with considerable reluctance we picked up a few final purchases to help the guys clear the decks.

Firstly, the human perspective. Darren and his team had built something special. They had lovely premises, well cared for, smartly turned out, and unlike certain of their competitors they always took the greatest of care with our bikes in the workshop, most of which had visited them at some time or another. They were a friendly bunch, and again, unlike other shops, never treated us dismissively, disdainfully or like our children were about to explode and kill all the other customers, when we came in the shop as a team. Thomas Ivor, Ruth and Rhoda had grown accustomed to chatting with Darren about their cycling exploits over a sweetie, or a biscuit, and we really appreciated that. It was heartbreaking seeing the personal cost of over a decade's hard work; peoples' livelihoods, being taken away. 

We appreciated our local bike shop because we knew that a trustworthy, keen, specialist shop close to our home was a luxury these days, and losing that is a tragedy, for us and our community. Of the bike shops in our area, this was the one which had earned our loyalty - it was one we would have travelled to even if it hadn't been the closest. We often contented ourselves with ordering things through them, even if they could be obtained faster and cheaper online, because we saw the value in supporting, in deliberately investing our spending in a business which supported and took an interest in us. At a stroke, it's gone, and it's strangely numbing. My road bike was about to go in for a service, and I have no idea what I will do with it now.

I passed the shop yesterday, to go to the butcher's. The shutters were down and, reminiscent of Meg Ryan's character's shop in 'You've got mail', I looked in sadly at the empty shelves, the counter, the window into the workshop where Darren would usually be found working on someone's steed when you arrived - and yet I was reminded of the old lady in the film, the one who'd worked there all her life, saying "Closing the store is the brave thing to do" - and that's certainly true in the face of the odds; sometimes there is no sense in trying to trade your way out of trouble. In this case, the bike trade seems set on destroying award-winning local businesses who supported and nurtured both individual cyclists and cycling culture in our communities - and we won't know what we had, 'til we lose it. 

Budgets are tight for all of us but we can vote with what we spend. If you still have a 'shop around the corner', look after them. If enough of you do, hopefully they'll still be able to look after you, for some time to come.

Amongst our final purchases was a Wellingborough Cycles race jersey, size 'XXS'. It's a shade big on the lad for now, but Thomas Ivor will wear it with pride and it will remind us to hold in our thoughts the people whose labours and friendship we valued, as they move on to new chapters in their lives. In the case of two of the guys, Tom and James, it's a new way of doing business, because we are pleased to hear that the bike fitting and coaching they offered will be continuing as VĂ©lo Elite, along with ongoing support for our town's de facto cycling club. 

We thank them for all they have done for us, congratulate them on the memorable things they achieved over the years, of which they should be proud, and wish all of them the very best for the future.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Thomas Ivor's Triathlon Triumph - #7kFor700k

On Friday, I did a 3x7km triathlon to raise money for the National Autistic Society's '7k for 700k' appeal, to highlight the 700,000 people in the UK who have Autism, like me.

I had a few difficulties to overcome. The day before the event, we had to survey a new route because someone decided that I wouldn't be able to use the gym for the cycle and run as we'd hoped. They also said they thought the challenge was too much at my age, and that they wouldn't have let their own children do it. This made me a bit cross, but actually it spurred me on and I was even more determined to prove that I could do it! We decided that I would do the cycle and run on a traffic free path by the A45. My NAS collecting tin had also got delayed in the post, but luckily that was waiting on our doorstep when we got home. Later, I got my first pair of running shoes, because Daddy said my trainers were looking a bit tired. I collected up all the things I was going to need, and put my batteries on charge.

Next morning, I woke up and had tons of butterflies in my stomach, so I filled it with porridge. After breakfast I started to get my stuff together; I needed so much kit! I packed one bag for each discipline to help with the transitions.

As soon as I said that I was starting at 10 o’clock that day, people started retweeting me and donating online, which motivated me even more.

Before you know it I was ready in the water to start my first ever triathlon.

Daddy set the watch going it went “Three, Two”, I felt like Kevin McAllister: "This is it - don’t get scared now" "one, GO!".

The first stint was 1¼ hours, which was quite easy, so then I went for a brief break while AQUA ZUMBA was happening, because ¾ of an hour of loud cheesy pop music often offends, and they make the water very choppy. I had done 100 lengths, or so I thought. We swapped my Swimtag for another one so I didn't get a flat battery and lose my data.

I had a break in the changing room before going back in the water. The second 'third' was incredibly hard, but my swimming teacher Glenn came to swim with me. Also, to spur me on, Daddy kept me posted on the kind people who were donating to the NAS on my fundraising page. One lady had been swimming in the next lane to me! People were also donating using the collecting tin, which I had put on reception. I had a sign next to me in the pool telling people what I was doing, and why.

After another 90 lengths, I got out for some lunch. I had a tuna sandwich, some blue 'super juice' and more bananas. We swapped my Swimtag again but it was taking ages to appear on the app, which meant that I didn't know for certain how many lengths I had left to do.

The last leg was very dull and boring just looking at the same things over and over again (mostly tiles) and the sun was in my eyes, going one way up the pool. I was also getting tired. It got worse when Daddy came and told me that the Swimtag had uploaded 7 lengths less than I thought I'd done, so I was going to have to do some extra to make sure I did 7km. Daddy then made me do 20 more lengths, just to make sure that I had definitely done it!

It was a good job he did because when we got the final download I'd only gone four lengths over!

I touched the wall for the last time and I was out. My legs were like trifle. Time for the cycle!

I was soon changed and Daddy put some air in my tyres. I tried start Strava but I’d already put my gloves on and could not work the screen! Unfortunately, there was a problem with the bluetooth and my sensors wouldn't work, which always seems to happen on important days!

The path was not the best surfaced of all the paths I’ve ever been on but it was very flat. I went past a lot of geese, swans, blackbirds and squirrels. On the way back though I went the wrong way and had to cross all the roads on the retail park again, which took a long time.

Soon in the distance I saw a man who looked like a man from ‘Ikea’ up by McDonalds, it was Daddy in his blue coat and yellow trousers, who had come to watch me across the roundabout safely. “You’ve gone the wrong way son, that's further!” He laughed.  I had a quick chat with him and got on my way again.

I got to the end of the path and waited for the team to arrive. My sister Rhoda was asleep in the back of the car by now! Daddy gave me a banana in exchange for my bike.

The cycle was my recovery for the triathlon. Now it was time for the pain!

Phone - check
Shoes - check
Gloves - check
Let's go!

The first few strides were awful but I found my rhythm. I felt soon very grumpy and tired, though.
It was dark and all the nice things that I saw on the bike were nowhere to be seen. Eventually, at the end of the path, I saw Daddy’s bright yellow trousers in the distance; I made my way towards him feeling tired.

I told him about what had happened on the run so far, ran towards him again for a bit of filming, then said farewell once more, turned round and went back on my way.

Some autistic people need music to help them concentrate on the task at hand and on the run back to the gym, I tried to listen to some music on the phone, but to my disgust the only piece of music I had was the Second movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto number 2, which I think is too sad to run to; it sounds like funeral music!

I needed some encouragement but the path was empty; all you could hear was the ‘zoom zoom’ of the cars, so I tried to cheer myself on but I seemed to go slower than I was before. Eventually I came down the hill for the very last time of the triathlon, going the right way this time!

Daddy and Rhoda were waiting for me with my NAS banner for the finish; soon I was crashing through the banner and reached the end of my triathlon. It had taken me seven hours and twenty three minutes including breaks, made up of:
  • Swimming  -7.1km, 3 hours, 8 minutes, 30 seconds
  • Bike - 9.57km, 32 minutes, 33 seconds
  • Run - 8.45km, 1 hour, 3 minutes, 53 seconds
My total time spent moving was 4 hours, 44 minutes and 56 seconds.

Afterwards I felt very tired, happy and thankful that I could now rest but not for long as I have more adventures planned! I raised more than double my original target of £210 on my JustGiving page, which was incredible.

The next day I felt quite achey and tired. Oh, and hungry! I was back in the pool for my swimming lesson tonight, though.

I would like to say thank you to my family @FamilyByCycle, and also to all my supporters who have put their time and money into supporting me and other people with autism. I even want to thank the people who said I couldn’t do it, because then I was determined to show them that it is possible, for a 9 year old to take on something big and succeed!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Thomas Ivor's 21km charity triathlon - going nowhere, fast!

The National Autistic Society recently launched their '7k for 700k' challenge, in which adults are challenged to swim, run or cycle 7km in a week; Thomas Ivor, at nine, is going to do all three. In one day.

7km on the turbo trainer isn't really a big deal for our long-distance adventurer, but 7km in the pool (4-5 hours, we reckon) is a serious piece of work, which he wants to do now, to reward the efforts of his swimming teachers, Becki and Glenn, one of whom is off to pastures new very soon. From not being able to swim two years ago, Thomas Ivor has gone on to win a race in the Olympic pool in London recently, and now is taking on his first serious endurance distance swim, with an eye on going further in the future. We blame Sean Conway's TV show...

Thomas Ivor swims most days, mid-morning, often during Aqua Zumba (so he can cope with tides and currents!) because he is home educated - it's been like that for well over a year now, because he's one of the 50% of children with a diagnosed Autistic Spectrum Disorder who's had to wait that long for the specialist educational help he needs. As a result, his curriculum is a tailored one, and it's allowed him to master his swimming strokes with regular repetition and guidance from his teachers, who have had to adapt their methods for him, and the wonderful team of lifeguards who have taken him under their wing ever since he won his accreditation to swim in the lanes by himself.

We also want to acknowledge all the folk from the 'adventure community' - some well known names, some less so, but all heroes - who have taken the time to train with, speak with, or otherwise encourage the lad. Many of the difficulties he faces, you would never see, but it all means a great deal to him and helps with his motivation.

So, tomorrow, Friday 19 January, Thomas Ivor is going to do something about his situation, by making the most of it. He's trying to raise a tenner for every km of his challenge, and if Family ByCycle's readers would like to support him, with a donation or a message on Twitter @Thomas_Ivor - that would be wonderful! He will be back to write it up afterwards - probably quicker than Daddy...

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!