SHEER DETERMINATION?Despite serious setbacks, Jerry now has his sights on the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup.
Keeping the wheels in motion
Inspirational cyclist Jerry Towey on overcoming adversity
ON a Sunday night in November 1990, Jerry Towey found himself lying on a road in Foxford being told to keep his helmet on and ‘don’t look at your leg’.
He had crashed his motorbike. Three weeks later his leg was amputated just below his knee, due to an infection and the extent of the injury.
Six months later, he walked out of the National Rehabilitation Clinic in Dún Laoghaire with a prosthetic leg.
When talking about the harsh reality of people losing limbs and becoming seriously injured in road traffic accidents, Jerry doesn’t go into gory details. He simply says: ‘It’s the same wards, but different faces in the beds’.
“It’s the same stories. Late for a match, picking up the girlfriend. It’s always the same story,” says Jerry. He sees young men in the Dún Laoghaire clinic every time he attends for prosthetic appointments.
“You can’t tell young lads, you just can’t. The reality was, there was six or seven lads in the Kilmovee area like me. It just happened that I was next for shaving. The next few generations there were lads up for shaving and they got it as well,” says the straight-talking Kilmovee man.
Stacking the odds
Jerry’s account of events couldn’t be more honest. He was a tough 19 year old at the time of the accident, but he admits to breaking down when he was told his leg would have to be amputated. However, he says that ten minutes later he knew he had to get on with it. He just ‘wanted the pain to be over’.
Jerry wasn’t wearing leathers on the night of the accident, and he believes that if he was he might not have lost his leg. He now understands how important safety is, whether it’s driving a car, a motorbike or a bicycle.
Cycling is his new sport of choice. Before racing, Jerry explains, everybody checks and rechecks their bike numerous times, and everything is monitored, from what you eat the night before. He believes that this thorough approach to safety should be adopted, whether it is cycling or driving.
“The trick is to move away from danger. That doesn’t mean parking a motorbike and getting the bus. It means keep the odds stacked in your favour. Your leathers can save you as much as your helmet. As for a bike, if you mind it, it will mind you.”
Last July, Jerry found himself lying on that cold tarmac once more. He was hit by a car while out cycling in preparation for two events, the World Para-Cycling Championships in Canada and the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup.
He knew his hopes of taking part in the two events could be dashed if he was injured. But, as he puts it himself, ‘whether you are a 19-year-old petrol-head or out training, the tar road is just as hard when you hit it’. He did everything in his power not to give in to the pains and headaches that followed – he even did the bike section of the Swinford Ironman the following evening. But in his own words, ‘the wheel came off the bike’ soon after.
“I did a time trial and came home and I actually nearly died … I went to work and all, and came home the Tuesday from work and fell asleep in front of the TV, and my partner Jane couldn’t wake me. I woke up to an ambulance crew around me … I knew the minute I went to hospital Canada was out the window, but my head was going to burst, my neck, my shoulders, everything,” said Jerry.
The Canada dream was over, and he now faced the possibility of not making it to the World Cup in Spain. Refusing to let his chance slip by without a fight, Jerry did what he does best: He got back on the bike and trained hard throughout the winter. While he is not bitter about the hand he has been dealt, he describes the last year as ‘the roughest, hardest year I ever put in in my life’. The second accident was worse than losing the leg, he says. More challenging.
But the dedication and hard work that followed proved worth it. News came in early last week that Jerry has successfully made the cut for the World Cup, which will be held in Segovia, Spain, next month.
He is now busy training – and keeping the wheels on the bike.