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Handcycling – it’s a whole new ball-less game!

Paralympian Wheelchair Rugby athlete Jonathan Coggan explains how he’s preparing for an extraordinary challenge: a 400 kilometre journey by handcycle across South Africa’s stunning Western Cape. He’s tackling the event in order to raise funds for REGAIN, a charity dedicated to improving the independence of tetraplegics like him.

In the first of a series of blogs detailing his South African exploits, Jonathan explains how he’s prepared for what promises to be a testing five day adventure.

This is my first foray into handcycling so it’s all new to me.

Let’s start with the bike. The seat in a handcycle is lower than in my day chair although probably a similar height to a rugby chair, but instead of pushing wheels I have my hands in a grips secured to an arm chain that’s right in in front me, at about arm height. I have to move my left and right hands together at the same time, rather than one forward then the next, in a circular motion. The chain then runs down to the front gearing cog on the front wheel.

It’s different and it feels different. Of course it’s outside too and I have to deal with all the bumps, gradients and inclines – and it’s a lot faster!

Training has not been easy because I’ve been trying to fit in my rugby training at the same time. I hope I’ve got the mix right between the two.  I have three hours’ club training on Mondays and Wednesdays, strength and conditioning in the gym on Tuesdays and Thursday and physio on a Friday. Apart from anything else when I get back from those sessions it’s often quite dark so I’ve not been keen to go out on the road on my own as it’s quite dangerous.  I’ve been going out at weekends as well, just around town, although I haven’t been able to do as many miles as I’d have liked.

I also train on a simple electric handbike at home. It’s not got any wheels or gears, it’s just an exercise bike that you can adjust the resistance on and go at it. I’ve probably done more on that than getting out on a handbike itself because I can still train to a distance, making it harder or easier by adjusting the resistance accordingly, but I’m not outside in the wet!

In South Africa I’ll be using a bike that REGAIN supply. It will be battery assisted because the charity needs to be confident we’re all going to be able to get up the steeper hills. It makes sense as, if you look at me, my disability affects all four limbs, I’m paralysed, my legs don’t work at all and my arms and shoulders are weak. It’s not a competition but a challenge so I’ll use the battery if I need to, adjusting it according to the hills.

I became tetraplegic following a car crash unlike most people REGAIN help who have become disabled through sporting injuries. They are, though, a charity that supports people who have broken their necks like myself and, although mine wasn’t a sporting injury I was always a sporty person growing up and carried that on post-injury with the wheelchair rugby. Those two things made the perfect link for me to REGAIN so I’m pleased to be able to take on this challenge and raise money for the charity.

I’ve already had pledges totalling £1,225 but would love to raise more so if you’re willing to dip your hand in your pocket for a great cause please visit my Justgiving fundraising page.

Now it’s time to pack – the next time you’ll hear from me I’ll be reporting my experiences from the highways and byways of the Western Cape. Wish me luck!

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