Editor’s Note: This story was submitted to us by Martyn Ashton. It chronicles his triumphant return back on two wheels.
“Of course I have questioned if I’ll walk again, and I don’t know if I will or not. But with riding a mountain bike, for whatever reason, it was always ‘how are we going to do it’. Never riding a bike again? Well, that never came up.” -Martyn Ashton
On Sunday 1st September 2013 at Silverstone’s MotoGP, England, mountain bike trials star, Martyn Ashton suffered severe spinal damage following a fall during a stunt show, leaving him paralyzed from the belly button down and using a wheelchair.
A year and a half later on 15th June 2015 Martyn realized his goal of riding again as he became the first person with his condition to ride a mountain bike on two wheels – the uplifting film, Back On Track. In his own words, this is Martyn’s remarkable story.
The laughs are genuine!
Interview by Matt Skinner and photos by Dave Mackinson
I’ve been riding bikes for so long that I think it defines my life. Riding is such a natural thing to me – it’s who I am. I’m not willing to let go of it despite the situation. All of us who ride bikes – whatever level it is – has the same feeling when they start riding: the exhilaration of riding. The freedom. For some of us that sticks and never goes away. And for me, it’s like that.
After my accident, my social media posts suggest I’m laughing the whole way through it and I get so many amazing messages that say I’m handling it so well. In truth it’s not like that: I have really, really difficult days and times – I literally have days I can’t believe the situation I’m in. I feel emotionally paralysed by it. I’m down and I find it hard to motivate myself. It’s tough. I also find seeing the image of myself very distressing. I find it very hard. But I feel that the first scenes of this video – where I’m pushing my chair up the rocky ascent – that’s the first time I’ve seen myself in my chair and thought ‘Yeah, that’s cool’ because that’s how it feels like – it’s a rocky, uphill struggle – every day. I don’t look at myself in my wheelchair and think that’s cool like I do when I see great action shots of bike riding. But in this video, I do. I’m truly proud of that and what it means.
I’ve had the cliched thing in my mind in hospital about ‘Will I walk again?’ and I don’t know if I will or not. But I’ve never thought that I wasn’t going to ride a bike again. I think that’s remarkable. After filming, one of the camera guys said ‘I bet you didn’t think you’d ride again’, and my reaction was: ‘I’d never thought that for a second with all the support of my friends and family around me’.
As a family we’ve managed it with incredible spirit and I’ve never felt lonely. I’d be nowhere without them – especially my wife Lisa and son Alfie; as a little trio we’re dealing with life day to day and I’m incredibly proud of how we’ve done that. I know that’s something that people don’t see but it’s through their support that I get to do anything at all. Even something as ‘normal’ as going to the office at the Global Mountain Bike Network where I work. That is amazing. I’ve always felt like I’ve had that support and energy from my close family and friends: I’ve been able to really move on and be able to look at things like riding mountain bikes again as goals to aim for – and feel like I can actually reach them.
When I first came home from hospital and I couldn’t go up the stairs in my house – as we didn’t have a stairlift – so I was set up in the living room for three months. We had our double bed downstairs and had this weird existence where it felt like we were in a bedsit. My son Alfie was loving it though, as he had the entire upstairs all to himself! I remember thinking at that time: ‘I could fold down into this situation.’ I didn’t want that but it took an incredible effort for me and Lisa – it was Lisa’s energy for a lot of it – to say ‘We’ve got to keep trying. We’ve got to keep looking forward so let’s get that stairlift, let’s get the bathroom adapted, let’s keep trying…’ So that we could keep moving forward.
I’ve been around people since my accident who have had really horrible things happen to them and there is a belief that you should ‘Never give up man – there are no excuses. You can do that.’ Now I’m not in as bad a situation as some people who have terrible injuries but I am in a worse one than others, and it’s all a relative. I do what I do because I can. I’m not doing anything that’s not normal for you: I’m literally doing what I can do. And there are things I can’t do but there are also things I couldn’t do even before my injury. I can’t do the roll-back trick that Danny MacAskill does in the Road Bike Party 2 film and I could never do it. There are some things you can’t do but the only way to find out is to try: I believe in ‘try’. I’m willing to fail, but I might find out that ‘never’ is the answer… But I’ll always try.