If you cycle, you are used to pain. Sometimes it's the lung-busting, leg-burning, eye-popping pain that comes from a hard effort in a race... while other times it's just the dull all-over body ache you get after a long ride. They say that what separates a good cyclist from a great one is the ability to suffer. The more you can suffer, the longer you can go and the better your chances of achieving your goals. If pain and suffering is the yardstick that is used to measure a great cyclist – I am going to be one of the best ever.
But this isn't about regular pain. It's not about the pain that you have to deal with. Not as a cyclist and not as a regular person. It's about the very special pain that I have to deal with on a daily basis. And it comes from being an amputee.
Other amputees can attest to the pain that can come from simply wearing an artificial leg. If the fit isn't exactly right, you can get blisters or sores. Not exactly what you want to be thinking about in the middle of a race. I've had legs that have fitted so poorly that I had to wrap half a roll of toilet paper around my residual limb (stump) just to add enough padding to make it comfortable!
My particular problem is a horrible nerve pain that affects my stump. Normally I only suffer from it later in the day or at night, and it is always at it's worst when I take my limb off. Imagine someone stabbing a knife into your leg – over and over – for hours on end. That's what it feels like. But the pain doesn't always come at night – it can hit me at any time. Like a migraine of the leg.
I take a special medication to fix the problem – something normally given to epileptics to ease their seizures. It stops the nerve endings from firing in my stump. It makes you incredibly drowsy though and takes a few hours to take effect – so I have to be sure to time it right or can fall asleep in the worst places! It's a constant balancing act – always assessing how much pain I can take and weighing it against the need to be alert.
Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that after my spinal cord injury I lost a fair amount of feeling in my legs (and this was even possibly the cause of me losing the leg in the first place). Yet I have to suffer with this very specific nerve pain on a daily basis. There are times when I don't even want to leave the house, let alone get on a bike a ride for hours on end. If I didn't have my eye on the Paralympics I'm not certain I would always 'ride through the pain'.
Lance Armstrong may have said it best: "Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever."