“You can change your life on two wheels.”
That is the advice Robin Thorneycroft gives others.
Thorneycroft, who will ride in Sunday’s Prospera Valley GranFondo, isn’t just paying lip service to cycling; she is a perfect example of what the sport can do for someone’s lifestyle.
While pregnant with her first son seven years ago, Thorneycroft began experiencing aches and pains.
At first, the doctors thought it may have been pregnancy-related, but it soon became apparent it was more than that.
“There were days I couldn’t dress myself, I couldn’t raise my arms even close to above my shoulders,” she explained.
“My hands would seize up and I couldn’t write or type anymore. It was quite sudden.”
Diagnoses wasn’t a complete surprise
In late 2009, after giving birth, Thorneycroft was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
She was only 29, but the confirmation of the illness wasn’t a total shock as her grandmother had also suffered through the debilitating disease.
“So when I got the diagnosis, that is what I saw: someone with two hip replacements, two knee replacements, whose fingers were gnarled. Someone who was really enthusiastic about life but really incapacitated,” Thorneycroft recalled.
“(But) I am always a pick-up-your-bootstraps type of person and keep moving on. I was like ‘all right, we know what it is, we can fight it.’”
She gave birth to another son about a year and a half later — she chose to have her kids close together so she could begin fighting the disease.
The next few years were full of ups and downs.
Some days she could walk and hike and other days her then three-year-old son had to get snacks and toys for his little brother, since his mom wasn’t able to.
Proper medication made huge difference
After trying different treatments those first couple of years, Thorneycroft was moved to biologic medications — genetically engineered drugs designed to act like natural proteins in the immune system.
“Within eight weeks of going from being in constant pain — days where I couldn’t hold a pencil or hold the kids — within eight weeks I was pretty much pain-free,” she said.
Thorneycroft kept expecting a relapse of flareup, but none came.
So last summer, she decided to make a change and start being more active.
“I was tired of being that person who had to say ‘no’ for so long and I wanted to embrace the ‘I can do this,” Thorneycroft said.
She dusted off her old bicycle — she used to commute from work on it occasionally before kids, but more recently had just ridden it around the block — and off she went.
This was in April 2015 and by the next month, she had signed up a 16-week training clinic which would prepare her for the Whistler GranFondo in September.
“The most emotional part was when I crossed the finish line. I couldn’t believe I had done that. I was so proud of myself. It was a lot of hard work and it still astounds me that I do that now,” Thorneycroft said.
When Thorneycroft joins the other cyclists — 1,500 are expected — for Sunday’s Prospera Valley GranFondo, she is hoping to do so on her new bike, a Cervelo C3.
She won the top-of-the-line bike — as well as entry into the Valley Fondo and a cycling kit, with all three prizes valued at $5,000 — through a contest which asked riders why the C3 would be a game changer for them.
Ride goes July 24
The 160-km GranFondo begins and ends at the Fort Langley National Historic Site with a 7 a.m. start.
The route will take the cyclists from Fort Langley south through Langley’s countryside, along Zero Avenue, through the community of Arnold, along the Sumas Prairie, up and over Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford and back to Fort Langley along the Matsqui Flats and through Glen Valley, along the Fraser River.
There are also two other ride distances: the 88-km MedioFondo and the 50-km PrestoFondo.
There are no road closures but motorists are asked to share the road when approaching cyclists and cyclists are expected to respect traffic.
As part of the rider race package pick-up on Saturday (July 23), organizers of the Prospera Valley GranFondo will be hosting a community kids event.
It will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the rugby field closest to 200 Street at Willoughby Community Park.
Activities will include face painting, a bouncy castle, water park, kids yoga, bike decorating and a kids race.