A bumpy ride Andrew Bradley will never forget

FIGHTING FIT: Andrew Bradley is ready for this weekend's Tour de Riverina.
FIGHTING FIT: Andrew Bradley is ready for this weekend's Tour de Riverina.

ANDREW Bradley felt a tingling in his fingers. Then in his toes.

After having a hernia operation at Wagga Base Hospital that day in January last year, he knew something was terribly wrong.

Within a few hours he was paralysed from the neck down. Unable to move at all as Guillain-Barre syndrome rendered him bed-ridden for almost two months.

The 50-year-old feared he wouldn't walk again, let alone ride a bike competitively.

For a fit person with a love of cycling and working out, it was a massive shock to the system.

"I had a hernia operation and picked up the virus through the open wound. It was a pretty big ordeal. I didn't think I'd walk again, let alone ride," Bradley said.

"You can feel the tingling start to come into your fingers, then it starts in your toes. By midnight I was virtually paralysed and couldn't move."

The recovery period, including learning how to walk again, can differ markedly with Guillain-Barre syndrome, ranging from a few weeks to years.

Thankfully, Bradley was at the lower end of the scale. They also diagnosed his condition straight away, allowing the necessary drugs to be flown in from Sydney almost immediately.

"I was very lucky they diagnosed me straight away, because it can take six weeks before some people are," Bradley said.

"People have spent up to three years paralyzed in Wagga Base (Hospital), and learning to walk again from there is longer.

"There's different levels of the virus and I was on the lower side of it, but it's daunting when you can't move.

"To go from cycling and racing to virtually nothing, you're just thinking 'what have I done wrong?' and 'why is this happening to me?'."

Bradley eventually regained feeling in his left hand, the biggest relief of his life. It meant he was on the path to recovery.

"My left hand was the first one to come back, but the right one is still a bit slow today," he said.

"It could be a couple of years until I get full use out of it, I just don't have the strength I used to have. It's a slow process."

But the support of the cycling community played a major role in helping him overcome his health scare. He enters Sunday's final round of the Tour de Riverina, the Butch Menz Memorial in fifth place on the standings.

WORDS OF INSPIRATION

The Tolland Cycling Club member gets a lump in his throat when he recounts the well wishes and encouragement he received from fellow cycling enthusiasts.

Three men in particular played big roles in inspiring Bradley's recovery.

There's Dr Martin Jude, a neurosurgeon at Wagga Base Hospital who reassured him he'd walk again.

"He said 'mate, you're going to walk out of here. I don't know how, I don't know when, but you will walk out of here'," Bradley said.

"That was reassuring to me. I focused on the positives like I have my whole life. I was diagnosed straight away, they had the drugs straight away, I was very lucky and that's the attitude I've taken the whole way through this process.

"Once I started getting feeling back in my fingers, he was a bit more at ease with the information he could give me in terms of how long I'd be in there.

"He said because you come into this extremely fit and healthy, the process isn't going to be as severe as someone who isn't."

There's Bradley's good mate, Griffith Cycling Club's Steve Bertoldo.

"Steve really motivated me. He said you're strong-willed enough in the mind and it doesn't matter what your body's doing, your mind will get you through this," Bradley said.

"It was a real mind over matter situation, he was a great inspiration.

"Then I helped Steve at the Tour of Bright, just getting his bike ready and that motivated me even more.

"I had a ride in Griffith and although I only lasted 5km, it was a great feeling. It gave me something to work towards."

Finally, there's Lionel Harmer. A good mate who died after a mountain bike accident at Livingston National Park in early April.

"He was a lovely guy and he said if you give 100 per cent, you will always achieve something. I use that as inspiration," Bradley said.

"I'm probably one of the slower riders out there but if you turn up and give 100 per cent, as Lionel always said, you never know what you can achieve.

"He said you're always better than the bloke sitting on the lounge saying 'I should have done it'.

"The Griffith guys came over and saw me (in hospital), Young Cycling Club sent over cards and visited me, Cootamundra too, it's a really great community to be a part of."

BACK ON THE BIKE

Bradley now works hard on improving his core with David Smith at Workout Wagga, and stretching his muscles with Marcus Smith at Synergy Health.

It helped him regain enough fitness to win the opening stage of the Tour de Riverina, the Rock Classic, on February 17.

"I never thought I'd win a race in my life and I was pretty lucky on the day the guns didn't catch us," he said.

"I love anything cycling. I work at Wagga Cycle Centre on Saturday mornings and it's a passion.

"I have a great job at Asahi where I travel around the Riverina. I can take my bike with me and one week I'll ride in Young, the next at Griffith, it was a great motivation to get back to that cycling community.

"I've been going out with the likes of Dan Addison, Pete Treloar and the boys early of a morning, training and working my way up to it."

After most races, Bradley can be found tucking into a jam and cream donut. It's his guilty pleasure, a reward after ticking another ride off the list.

Andrew Bradley eating a donut post race.

Andrew Bradley eating a donut post race.

The man affectionately dubbed 'donut boy' is making every ride count, because he knows how much it hurts when it's taken away.

"The biggest thing that was a hurdle for me was the wheelchair," he said.

"I can now appreciate learning to walk again, what people in wheelchairs go through and how hard it is.

"That really hit home for me. Just to get back on the bike and be fit and healthy again, you're very thankful."

IN MEMORY OF BUTCH

This weekend's final round of the Tour de Riverina, a 70km trek from Collingullie to The Rock and back twice, will be held on Sunday.

The Butch Menz Memorial is dedicated to Anthony Michael Menz, a larger than life character who was universally known as Butch.

He died when hit by a truck on a training run on a foggy morning in February 1990.

It's a race that's always held special prominence for prominent Wagga cycling family the Treloars.

Peter and Andrew's father, John, was very close with Butch and the brothers remember him burning with motivation to ride strongly in his honour when the first race bearing his name was staged just a few months later.

"Our old man John was great mates with Butch, they had some great times on and off the bike. It was hard for our old man and it was hard for the cycling community," Andrew, who won the race in 2012, said.

"We remember as children when it happened - we were just nine or ten years old - it did shake us to the core.

"When the first memorial race was run John was pretty stoked to get fastest time in that race, it was a really big thing for him in memory of his mate.

SPECIAL RACE: Peter Treloar, Andrew Bradley and Andrew Treloar.

SPECIAL RACE: Peter Treloar, Andrew Bradley and Andrew Treloar.

"I do remember as a kid it was a big deal that day. He rode pretty hard, I remember him coming over the line and it was a big deal for him and Butch's family.

"It was a very emotional time for Butch's family, but also the wider cycling community. From a racing point of view back then it was a smaller bunch of people, a very tight knit community, and it really shook the cycling fraternity.

"He was a character, a larger than life man and everything we can to do keep that memory going, the better."

Defending champion Peter also won the race in 2016 and said it's always an event he includes on his schedule, even with solid training hard to come by since daughter Lottie was born seven months ago.

"I'm definitely competing,it's one race I'd never miss," he said.

"We've had a long association with the Menz family, dad being really good friends with Butch and doing a lot of training with him back in the day, and Andrew and I are friends with his children.

"It's sad, but you want to keep those memories going."

The Butch Menz Memorial starts at 10am on Sunday, with sign on from 9am.

The race is a 70km trek starting at Collingullie to The Rock, and back twice.