Conquering The Mountains Again – Cyclist Jane Rees talks physiotherapy, Pilates & her horrible accident

Jane Rees Cycling

Jane cycling Col de Fontaube August 2016

Hello! I am really delighted to welcome Jane Rees, a Physiotherapist I met on Twitter, to HealthyHappy50.

Hello Jane! Please tell us a little bit more about yourself:

Hello Jo, my name is Jane Rees, I’m 56, I have been married for 34 years. I have 2 sons, a lovely daughter in law and a gorgeous grandson.

I work as a Physiotherapist at Select Physio in Worcester. My Twitter name is @ladystannard.

Which sport do you enjoy?

I am a very keen cyclist and have been so for most of my life. In my 20s and 30s I also ran. Degenerative meniscal change, which was going to be operated on, put paid to the running. (A meniscus is a cushion inside your knee, which aids in its stability).

At the time I was working in professional sport, which I will talk about shortly, which meant I was unable to take any time off for 6 months. I cut the running down, started to cycle a bit more and my symptoms settled.

I also understand you work within sport now too?

Yes, I am a Pilates teacher, which I have done for nearly 15 years as part of my profession. I am a Chartered Physiotherapist and I still teach 3 classes a week. It is an amazing tool and has helped me tremendously over the last 3 months.

My career has been very varied, I have worked both in and for the NHS. I currently work in private practice with a highly skilled team whose physiotherapy expertise I have recently had to call on. I worked in professional cricket for Worcestershire Cricket Club, a fantastic six and a half years, but demanding in so many ways, both on the body and mind. A mix of extremely long days, no chance of a summer holiday, hot sweaty bodies…glamorous it is not!

Jane Rees Cycling Woman over 50

Jane on her Moulton mini aged 9

Were you sporty when you were young?

As a teenager I was very active, I did Ballroom and Latin American dancing; for a while I was in a formation team. I juggled the dancing with Judo! Yes I know a strange mix! I played a lot of badminton at school too.

After I qualified I did lots of aerobics, Jane Fonda stuff…it was the early 80s! Then I started running with my husband who trained for and completed a few marathons. I continued running whilst I had my 2 sons. I also cycled to work throughout my second pregnancy and returned to running after both postnatal check ups.

I realise that I have never stopped being active! As my children grew up, they were encouraged to do lots of different sports too. They both cycle regularly, and my younger son played junior representative cricket, league cricket and completed the Etape du Tour last year.

Do you cycle alone or with a group of friends or family?

I cycle regularly all year round, with both my husband and friends. I am also a Breeze leader with the Women on Wheels group based in Worcester. The Breeze network has been a fantastic way to meet new ladies & make some great friends.

It both encourages women who have cycled in the past return to cycling and encourages people new to cycling to progress their confidence, fitness and strength.

Tell us more about cycling with your husband!

Since 2005 my husband and I have made cycling part of our annual holidays and trips abroad. Training for a continental adventure is a real catalyst. It means we enjoy the trip and are able to complete the distances and climb comfortably.

We have done both self-guided and group trips in Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria.

In 2014 we cycled from St Malo to Nice in 14 days with Saddle Skedaddle. This was a real eye opener of a trip. I had wondered how I would cope but it was a great sense of achievement to see the Mediterranean Sea in Nice.

Last year we cycled, again with Saddleskedaddle from San Sebastián to Tarifa. This was a different ball game altogether. There was lots of climbing starting in the Basque Country on day one. The climbing never let up!

We also experienced a heatwave, which meant temperatures were regularly in the high 30s and a few days of 42 degrees. Do not believe anyone who says Spain has a central plain! It is mountain range after mountain range!

Arriving in Tarifa and looking across to the African continent was a special moment. At times it had felt like being on a SAS recruitment course, but I did it!

Jane Rees Cycling

Jane & Nigel on Mont Ventoux

How do you feel when you are cycling?

I love the sense of achievement cycling brings. To cross a country under your own steam is a wonderful thing. I have always felt that going out in the rain or battling strong wind, or more often both of those things, makes you feel as if you have beaten the elements and somehow been at one with them.

I have a particular fondness for climbing mountains, especially when the scenery is spectacular. I have been lucky enough to cycle a lot of famous Tour de France climbs. Having cycled them myself, it brings a whole new dimension. I appreciate more how strong, skilled and fit the professional cyclists are.

It also makes me realise how lucky I am to be fit enough and strong enough to climb up a mountain and share it with someone special and be at one with the great outdoors.

I understand you had a nasty accident this year? Can you tell us more?

My 2016 was bumbling along nicely, we had had a month away in India in February travelling in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Kerala. It’s always nice to get to early spring and think about summer plans and work on fitness.

Out of the blue at 3pm on the Spring Equinox, I was hit without any warning by a car whilst I was cycling on a traffic island.

All I remember was flying through the air thinking “I can’t die, I have so much to look forward to.”

I landed in a sitting position having become disengaged from my bike. My first instinct was to feel my legs. I could. Then I tried to see if I could move my feet, knees and hips, I could. I somehow crawled to the grassed area at the centre of the island.

The woman who hit me came out with the classic, “I’m sorry I didn’t see you’”. I had a vibrant pink gilet on. I was very shocked and I admit I did swear at her. I tried to stand up but had an agonising sharp pain in my left groin.

I knew immediately my spring and summer plans had totally changed. I felt a real sense of despair, but I was alive.

The Ambulance staff somehow made me comfortable on a very hard trolley. A Policeman popped his head into the ambulance to tell me the driver had tested negatively for alcohol. I replied, “ You can test me too!” Laughing for the first time, made me realise I had broken ribs on the left side!

The A and E staff at Worcestershire Royal Hospital were wonderful. I knew I hadn’t broken my hip/leg as there was no deformity but X-rays confirmed an avulsion fracture of my left pubic ramus. I had a fractured pelvis and a large groin muscle detached from its origin. There was also a large laceration to my left elbow. The Doctor who attended to me already knew my profession and said, “Well you know what you need to do don’t you?”

I did! It was to get moving!

The irony of the situation was not lost on me.

I had worked for a longtime on a number of complex Orthopaedic Trauma wards. I was used to mobilising and then safely discharging patients with a fractured pelvis. This was now me. I was the patient.

Jane Rees Women Over 50 Cycling

Jane with some girlfriends in Mallorca

That sounds a really nasty accident Jane. How did you cope once you were home?

The first few days went by in a blur of pain, visitors and assistance for every daily activity with my wonderful husband Nigel.

What I wasn’t prepared for and I felt really taken aback to admit it, was how it affected me mentally.

I had awful flashbacks of flying through the air and constant thoughts about what could have happened. I really struggled to imagine ever cycling again. I was positive I would not have the strength in my left leg to ever turn a pedal.

I was very keen on getting myself moving as quickly as possible. Using the elbow crutches I had been loaned I started to walk outside. At first it was just a small distance to the corner of the road. Each time I went a little bit further. I made sure my technique was always correct.

My first physiotherapy session with Sarah was a unique experience. I had never needed physiotherapy before and I was still in both mental and physical shock. I felt I had no idea of what I should be doing. Sarah gently showed me my left leg still moved independently, although I had great difficulty controlling it.

Using basic Pilates exercises I started to reeducate my core muscles. Having landed on my bottom, my pelvic floor felt like a post natal pelvic floor. It was really shocking to me. I quietly got on with all my homework and rehab.

What helped you get through such a difficult time?

The support I had from lots of people was amazing.

Never underestimate how much a simple message to someone, or a visit from friends lifts the spirit after an incident like this.

However, it wasn’t all about me at all. Nigel had had a huge shock, and he needed a break from caring, cooking and generally supporting me 24 hours a day. Friends would sit and chat and of course counsel me while he was able to get out on his bike and do normal things.

Jane Rees Cycling Physiotherapy

Jane & Nigel on Mont Ventoux

And then you went on holiday?

Yes,19 days after the accident we were due to go to Mallorca with some friends on a cycling training week. After long debate I decided it would be great to have a change of scenery and hopefully a bit of warmth. The week worked better than I could ever have dreamed it would. Our friends Trish and Jules were able to help whilst we travelled. There was me – in a wheelchair exiting a plane on a cherry picker type lift! It was a sight!

The sunshine in Mallorca had such a boosting effect, I could almost feel the suns’ rays enhancing my bone healing by the day. Our apartment was on the ground floor with a beautiful garden. This allowed me to practise my walking. On my birthday I took a few unaided steps. It was still painful but there was light at the end of the tunnel.

How did you continue your physiotherapy once you got home?

As soon as we came home, I started my course of hydrotherapy within a NHS setting.

Jo, my physiotherapist asked me what my goals were. One was to walk normally and the other to get back on my bike.

Immersion into the water gave immediate pain relief. I knew from my previous hydro knowledge that water takes 97% of body weight, it was a total revelation to be able to firstly walk without any pain, but also walk in a normal pattern.

My second session, two days later was genuine hard work. Jo gave me a number of cycling specific exercises then around 15 minutes really challenging aerobic exercises.

As I met my husband afterwards, he said I resembled a tomato…I’d been really pushed to do some physical work. I cannot express how grateful I was. Being used to regular aerobic exercise, my body almost craved it.

How did it feel getting back on your bike?

On Friday 29th April, Sarah gave me the ok to sit on the turbo and do some static cycling. With trepidation I sat on the bike and gently turned the pedals, my legs worked and I had no pain from my fracture site, which was by now nearly six weeks into strong callus formation (new bone healing).

This was a seriously emotional moment, which was recorded by my husband with a photograph. The photo captures my relief at being able to cycle and….no pain!

I had no reaction at all, so I decided I would try cycling outside on my winter bike. The bike involved in the accident had been written off. The insurers of the lady who had hit me had already paid a cheque for the value of my beautiful Orbea. With great help from my local cycle shop I had chosen and bought my new bike.

I could not have envisaged how good it would feel for my left leg to cycle again. My husband and I cycled 5 miles together on quiet country roads. Mounting the bike was awkward but once on it felt fine.

Two days later, we set off again. It felt even easier. My road to total cycling rehab had begun. The end of my first week cycling I had ridden 21 miles and I could really feel my muscle memory kicking in.

I was able to go along to a Breeze ride after 2 weeks and joined in an easy ride of 14 miles. I felt really good and after the ride, as I got myself back in my car to drive home, I was able to place my leg into the car without having to physically lift it.

The more I cycled, the better I felt.

I was able to return to work in the middle of May. I took delivery of my brand new bike on 20th May.

How did it feel going back to work again?

Returning to work also meant taking 3 Pilates classes a week. This was a total bonus as I was able to join in and make part of the classes very specific to building up my inner thigh muscles and working on functional strength and balance.

I very quickly completed a 20 mile ride, then a 30 miler and the following week a 40 mile ride. The more I did, the further I was able to go.

On 26th June I cycled 69 miles on an Audax event. It was as if the accident had never happened.

Jane Rees Cycling

Jane cycling Col de Fontaube August 2016

I was back leading a Breeze ride in July, and we were cycling in France in Provence in August (see the pic above!).

I still have lots of goals to achieve, but I really believe I would never have made such good progress after having fractured my pelvis and ribs without regular cycling.

What are your biggest motivations?

My main motivation for cycling is for keeping fit and having fun with my family and friends. Most summers, my husband and I have a cycling holiday or challenge, every ride makes a contribution towards this.

In October we will be heading for 6 days cycling in Sardinia. My main goal of the summer is to be able to complete the tour comfortably. I adore food and regular exercise allows me to indulge occasionally.

As a healthcare professional, I do believe that being a positive role model for regular exercise is a vital part of my job.

I have always loved the sense of exhilaration that pushing yourself when exercising, and you can always do more that you think you can.

Have you ever had any obstacles to being able to exercise?

I have never really had any obstacles to regular exercise. As a family, my husband and I always encouraged both each other, and our sons to do regular exercise. It is part of our way of life.

What or who is your inspiration?

My inspiration is usually to keep myself fit. However, this summer it has been to get myself back to the level of fitness I had last year, when I cycled 6035 miles. I do enjoy a cycle stat!

I also am inspired to be the best I can and maintain my health as long as I can. I would also say something like the This Girl Can showing all different types of fit and healthy women enjoying physical exertion is an inspiration.

Jane Rees Cycling The Col Sign at Croix de Fer

The Col sign at Croix de Fer

What has been your best achievement?

I would say my best achievement would be climbing the mythical ‘Col de la Croix de Fer‘. This is a famous climb which often features in the Tour de France. I had tried to climb it in 2013 and found it really challenging. I’m afraid to say I bailed out about a third of the way up. I was determined I would get there and on 29th June 2014 completed the 20.5 mile climb to 2067 metres above sea level. I am also a member of ‘Club des Cent Cols’, having notched so far 126 name mountain passes.

What are your next goals?

My next goal is to complete my week-long Sardinian cycle. My husband and I are planning to cycle from Bilbao to Barcelona in 8 days next May. I hope to keep fit and healthy along the way.

What are the 3 best things about cycling?

  • being with friends
  • enjoying the great outdoors
  • the benefits to overall health and wellbeing

The three worse:

  • punctures
  • chain snapping on a hill
  • strong headwinds

Do you track your cycling and has this been helpful to you?

I have used a Garmin for around 4 years, but only in the last 18 months have I used Strava. It intrigues me to see what other people can do. It does push you to strive to improve your strength and overall fitness.

What’s your favourite piece of kit?

My favourite piece of kit is definitely my new Colnago CLD bike. It rides beautifully, looks elegant and is pure Italian style.

What’s your favourite cycling food?

My favourite food pre ride is porridge and marmite on toast. During a ride it’s a toasted tea cake or coffee and walnut cake.

Post ride, a cup of Yorkshire Gold and probably some more cake!

Do you have a favourite cycling magazine or website you read?

We have a subscription to both The Cyclist and Rouleur always great reads and full of up to date news and views. I follow a number of cycling Twitter feeds, which are always entertaining.

If someone was thinking about taking up a new sport or exercise, but doubted themselves or was worried they would feel judged or unwelcome, what would you say to them?

If I was talking to someone who was thinking of taking up exercise, I would advise them that it would be a big step forward to making a positive investment in their health.

There is a website Exercise Works  which gives a wealth of information, advice and encouragement.

I would suggest they find a local group and take the plunge. You will always be made welcome. The  campaign is also most encouraging.

And if they are interested in cycling?

I would advise anyone who is interested in taking up cycling to look at the Breeze website, an initiative from British Cycling encouraging more women to either get back on their bikes, or think about cycling as a participation sport for the first time. There are lots of local groups all around the country who will be more than happy to help.

Do you have a sporting or life motto?

My mantra for the last few years has been ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. It’s so true.

Finally, what advice would you give your 20 year old self about health and happiness?

My advice to my 20 year old self would be:

  • Take great care over your diet and fitness
  • Choose your friends carefully
  • Remember handbags don’t make you happy, being loved and healthy does!
Jane Rees Women Over 50 Cycling

Jane with some girlfriends in Mallorca

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Jane. I am sure anyone who has been injured will really appreciate your inspiring & encouraging example (I certainly do!). We hope you and Nigel have a fabulous time in Sardinia.

To follow Jane on Twitter, look for @ladystannard. She is lovely and inspiring – I would recommend it!

Jo xx

 

All photos courtesy of and belonging to Jane Rees.

 

Would you like to share your story? We’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch!

Email: Healthyhappyfifty@yahoo.com or @healthyhappy50on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Nicola Horsey
    26th August 2016 / 9:57 pm

    Great article and an inspirational read Jane. As someone who follows you on Twitter, I was aware of some of what you went through this year, but not all of it. You seem to have made an amazing recovery and I now know why you encouraged me to take up Pilates!

    Are you doing the Skedaddle Bilbao to Barcelona trip next year?

    Best wishes,

    Nicola @nicolarh49

    • 27th August 2016 / 6:33 am

      Thank you so much for your lovely message Nicola! Isn’t Jane amazing? I’ve been so inspired by her story too and will make sure she sees this. Thank you & happy cycling! Jo

    • Jane Rees
      27th August 2016 / 7:30 pm

      We are planning to, a great thing to train and plan for. Are you thinking of doing it too?

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