Paralysis can have a huge impact on your life, but that doesn’t have to mean the end of living life to the full, and support is available.
In September 2017 an email came around the office asking if anyone would like to go to Cadwell Park Circuit as a guest of Talan Racing – a motorcycle race team.
As a fan of all things motorsport of course my answer was yes please, thank you very much.
I knew nothing about Talan Racing so got myself on their website to find out a bit more about them. WOW! They were disabled motorcyclists who were competing against able bodied riders. How was that possible? Could they be competitive? How did they overcome their difficulties? That was something I was about to find out.
I went along to Cadwell Park for the weekend and spent some time chatting with both riders and mechanics. The riders at that time were Talan Skeels-Piggins, team owner and a paraplegic from T4; Andy Houghton, paraplegic from T6; and Will Swift, a single leg above knee amputee.
These guys were amazing and inspiring. They were racing, competitively, against able bodied riders. How? A lot of hard work from a lot of incredible people to enable it to happen. Adaptations needed to be made to the bikes, particularly for Talan and Andy, so all controls were on the handle bars; toe clips needed fitting to keep the feet in place; Talan also needed heavy duty Velcro fitting to strap his knees to the bike as he has no awareness at all of where his legs are.
Then came the challenge of releasing the riders onto the track. All the other riders could just put their feet down when waiting to be released from the paddock / pit lane onto the track. Will was also able to do this, albeit just with his single leg. This was not an option for Talan and Andy.
A system needed to be developed to enable them to take their place on the grid for the start of the race. Could stabilisers be used which would then retract as the rider pulled away? Were there any other means of launching the bikes which meant the riders could be down on the grid alone? This is something which is still being looked into.
In the meantime, Talan and Andy had a “launch crew” – two people who would stabilise the bikes as they arrive at the grid, and hold them upright until the lights turned from red to green. They were putting all their trust in a person holding them upright and not dropping them. What a responsibility for the launch crew.
The difficulty with having a launch crew on track meant that the riders could not take their rightful place on the grid. It is simply too dangerous to have people standing on the grid with bikes hurtling towards them / past them. They therefore had to line up at the back of the grid, regardless of how well they had done in qualifying. Such a shame – but safety must of course come first. Nonetheless they rode amazing races. Talan had hurtled past about 7 riders by the time he came out of the first corner. Andy, who was riding as a rookie (his first race season) ended up in 3rd place in the Thunderbike Extreme Rookies Championship out of 17 riders.
These racers are not just making up the numbers, but are actively battling for podium places and championship points.
Having spent the weekend with the team I was hooked and wanted to do what I could to help them out wherever possible. Sponsorship was an issue, them having just lost their main sponsor. 2018 was therefore going to be a reduced season in terms of the number of races the team could enter. They were also no longer going to be able to pay their volunteers’ expenses and would be reliant on people helping out simply for the love of the sport and the team.
I could do that. I therefore contacted Talan later in the week and expressed an interest in helping out with the team. I could run around fetching and carrying and making cups of tea – whatever was needed which meant the mechanics could actually concentrate on their jobs without having to stop to do other things.
Fast forward 7 months and I’m back at Cadwell Park – this time not as a guest of the team but as a volunteer, working with the team. So much for my suggestion that I could help out with fetching and carrying and making cups of tea. The team have far more than that planned for me.
My first job………..getting Talan into his racing leathers! How was I going to manage that? I had to push him up a hill in his wheelchair to his van where “mission leathers on” would take place. It was a bit tricky but I managed.
Next came learning to launch. This is a two person job. One person holds the front of the bike, the other removes the paddock stand from the rear wheel and then steadies the back of the bike. The front person moves away and the rear person keeps the bike upright until the rider is ready to pull away. My role was to steady the back of the bike. I was very nervous at first. What happened if I dropped them?? I was reassured (kind of) that everyone had dropped one or other of the riders at some point. I didn’t want that to be me. I would have felt awful. Fortunately, despite a little wobble on the first attempt, everything ran smoothly for the rest of the weekend.
Friday was testing day. It rained. Lots. Saturday was qualifying and first race day. It rained. Lots more. Peeling Talan out of his leathers at the end of his sessions was no mean feat. But again – I managed. By the end of the weekend I was like a well-oiled machine!!
During the races I was tasked, along with the other launch girl, with doing the pit board so the riders knew what lap they were on and roughly how much of a gap they had on the person behind them. After the races – polishing Talan’s bike.
I didn’t stop all weekend – but I loved it. I am now going to be volunteering with them for the remaining 5 races of the season.
These guys are absolute proof that paralysis does not mean the end of a full and active life.
In addition to the race team, Talan represented great Britain in the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games, becoming Britain’s top placed male skier in the Giant Slalom and Super G events. The following year he went on to become European Champion and in 2013 became the first sitting skier to win International medals in both IPC Alpine and Boarder-Cross disciplines. He has also recently attended the Invictus Games trials in Sailing and Archery, but has to wait until mid-May before the team is announced.
Talan also runs a charity, The Bike Experience, which aims to get disabled motorcyclists back on a bike when they previously never thought it would be possible.
Andy recently attended the Great Britain Para Rowing trials and is Great Britain’s number 1 “arms only” rower.
For more information about Talan Racing and/or The Bike Experience you can check out their websites at www.talanracing.co.uk and www.tbex.co.uk or come along for a chat during one of the race weekends (dates below).
Hope to see you at one of the race weekends – come and have a chat with us.
16/17 June Donington Park
7/8 July Brands Hatch
4/5 August Cadwell Park
25/26 August Snetterton
6/7 October Brands Hatch