While many riders will suffer from aching joints after finishing the BESTmed Jock Cycle Classique this month, few would consider starting South Africa’s toughest one-day stage race feeling that way.
For 35-year-old participant Warwick Gill however, living with pain is a way of life.
First diagnosed with juvenile chronic arthritis at the age of seven, he has spent the greater part of three decades conquering challenge after challenge, which now also includes the 154km Mpumalanga race presented by ASG on July 21 and cycling up Mount Kilimanjaro in September.
“Living with any condition for 28 years makes it part of who you are, and not something you’re affected by,” says Warwick.
His auto-immune disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the synovial membrane around the joints, which results in swelling, pain and eventual joint damage.
“In my case it has affected all my joints. It is currently under control, but I have limited mobility in most joints and it damaged the growth points resulting in stunted growth.”
He also struggles with secondary effects such as osteoporosis and high blood pressure.
“I’ve recently procured two new hips, as my old ones needed replacing. I’m monitoring when I might need to upgrade the knees as well – the main advantage being that my structure actually improves with age and a little maintenance.”
Strangely enough, says Warwick, his condition does not affect his daily life too much. “I live in an unmodified house, drive an automatic car and am completely independent.
“Some things take me a little longer than most – getting dressed is an example – and I’ve had to devise some interesting methods for putting on socks and shoes, picking things up off the floor and various other everyday activities.”
The Randpark Ridge, Johannesburg, resident has also had to modify his approach to cycling, which he has been doing for the past six years on a recumbent trike. “My recovery time is impacted most as it’s not just the muscles that need to recover, but the joints as well.
“A fine balance needs to be maintained between pushing fitness and strength and not overdoing it to the point where the joints get inflamed. Learning to listen to my body has been the toughest lesson.”
For his training regime, Warwick combines time on a reclining stationary trainer with light resistance work and Pilates exercises. On weekends, he cycles on and off-road.
“I do what my body allows in any given week based on resting heart rate as well as how my joints feel. In a good week, I will complete 10 to 12 hours of training; in a bad one, as little as two or three.”
When preparing for a long race like the Jock, Warwick can train up to 60km per day.
He has completed three Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge races and the Pick n Pay Cape Argus Cycle Tour numerous times.
“I’ve done the Argus every year since 2007. Love that race, even in the 2009 windy year. Okay, maybe I tolerated that one . . .”
Warwick, who works as a channel development manager at one of the country’s major banks, says every race is an individual time-trial for him and slipstreaming is virtually impossible.
“The line required on corners is more like a car than a bike and I get a lot less lateral movement due to wind than the bikes do. As a result, I tend to stay upwind of the bikes and watch my mirrors carefully in corners.
“With three 16-inch wheels, my rolling resistance is high – I need to start pedalling much earlier on a downhill or flat section than the others. The only other real issue is that I’m very close to the ground, so my forward visibility can be compromised.”
His trike has been slightly modified to adapt to his needs. “I turned the brakes around so that I can push rather than pull them, and shortened the cranks as the damage to my knees and ankles prevents longer ones.”
Unfortunately, the downside is limited torque, making uphills a serious challenge. “Putting too much power through the legs also results in strain on my knees – and that can knock me out of a race very quickly.”
So why would he even contemplate taking on a multistage race featuring monster climbs like the 5km Hilltop ascent between Barberton and Nelspruit and the 7km Boulders climb towards Kaapmuiden?
“It was a mistake initially, but then I got excited by the prospect of the challenge,” laughs Warwick.
“Knowing how I operate, I needed an interim goal between the Argus and my Kilimanjaro attempt to keep me training at the right pace. When I entered, I thought it took place over three days, which was entirely achievable.”
On discovering the reality of a trio of stages on a single day, he upped his training accordingly.
“The strength I have had to develop for prolonged climbing of steep ascents forms the base of what I need for Kilimanjaro. I do hope to make the Jock a regular event though; I get excited, with an appropriate dollop of fear, every time I see the profile.
“But, after being told at age seven that I would never walk again, I have spent most of my life proving doctors wrong and love seeing how far I can push myself. For me, this is a real challenge and that keeps me sane.”
Some would however question Warwick’s sanity when it comes to summiting the highest mountain in Africa in aid of charity on a modified off-road trike.
He will be joined in this adventure by a team of six family members and friends who are hiking up, and three porters who will carry the trike on the sections he has to walk.
“A gentleman named Ben Goosen has summited in a three-wheeled wheelchair, so I know it is possible. My goal is to get to the top under my own power.”
To aid him on his quest, modifications to his trike include a small front chainring mated to a 14-speed internal gear hub, a 10cm travel front shock and serious tyres for maximum traction.
“I need to be able to climb at three kilometres per hour to acclimatise to the altitude and have the capability to change gears while stationary.”
Five years ago, Warwick was invited to hike up by the Arthritis Foundation. Although a hip replacement forced him to withdraw, the seed had been planted.
“With two replacement hips and constrained knees and ankles, it’s not advisable, or possible really, to hike it. It took me some time to find the right trike and wrap my head around changing my objective, but this is the year.”
The nine-day expedition, two days longer than the standard tour, starts on September 24 and will see him summit by the light of the full moon on September 30.
“It’s really a personal driver – it’s difficult to fully explain the sense of achievement I feel when I finish the longer races, but I expect this will be a little more intense.”
And it is this powerful sense of understatement that will keep Warwick on course for greater things.
Enter the Jock until July 8 on www.cyclelab.com.
Visit www.cyclingnews.co.za or @CyclingnewsZA for more information.
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