My name is Mark Howard and I am 45 years old. I have been disabled since I was 18 following an accident in the army which resulted in me having carbon fibre ligaments in my knee and spending 3 years in hospital and rehab. I was medically discharged in 1993.
I enjoyed cycling as part of keeping fit after my recovery and keeping my knee moving although I did struggle with it over any sort of distance.
I have always been someone who enjoys a challenge and in 2006 I did the full Edinburgh marathon on crutches just because it hadn’t been done.
One of my best mates has been in a wheelchair since his teens and has always been into watching cycling especially the Tour de France. He was talking about how he’d always wanted to go up Alpe d’Huez in his chair so I said I’d do it with him. To make this happen I entered a national competition on the TV and won. Part of the deal was that I would learn to hand cycle to do the challenge with him, and from the first time I got on the bike I was hooked.
The thrill of going along at speeds up to 50 miles per hour sitting 4 inches off the ground was exhilarating.
No one had climbed Alpe d’Huez on a hand cycle before but unfortunately a month before we were due to go a German Paralympian became the first person to do it. I carried on training all the same with the new aim of beating his time. All went well until the day of the attempt. It was pouring with rain. I still did it but spent hours sat on the side of the mountain because my bike was losing traction in the wet. It was too dangerous to do the descent so unfortunately I missed out on the fun part.
I was hooked though and straightaway started looking for my next challenge. I decided to ride Lands End to John O’Groats this year on my handcycle. Once again though fate threw a curveball and on a training ride I hit a dip in the road which put me on two wheels and into a head on collision with a car. Luckily it managed to stop before I hit it, but I smashed my ankle to bits, was in hospital for three weeks and the accident caused over £400 damage to my bike. Since then I have been in a wheelchair as now both my knees and my ankles are shot and I can no longer use crutches.
I had to give up my business and spent a few months recovering but I was determined to get my bike fixed. I am now waiting for one more piece to arrive from America which should be in the next few days and then I’ll be back on the road again.
I knew that my challenge for this year was out of the window so I was thinking about what else I could do. I thought it would be an achievement to ride the Isle of Man TT route. I mentioned it to some other hand cyclists and someone told me about the Isle of Man CC.
I have bought a turbo trainer and signed up for a gym. I use both daily in preparation for what is ahead. I put on two stone after the accident and now that weight is coming off. I feel so much better for this and am so looking forward to getting back out on the roads again on my bike.
My aim for the day will be just to complete the race and have fun while doing it. As I’m so close to the ground I won’t be able to enjoy the scenery unless it’s a hedgerow or hopefully a nice blue sky. Time wise I would be happy with 3 hrs, ecstatic with 2 hrs 30 mins and doing cartwheels if I’m any quicker than that.
I'm riding for a small military charity called "The Bridge for Heroes" which is based in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. They help ex servicemen/women with any problems they have especially PTSD. They’ve helped me quite a bit over the last few months.