UPHILL BATTLE

IT’S BEEN A LONG ROAD TO THE FIN­ISH LINE FOR THIS RUN­AWAY BAY CY­CLIST

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - FEATURE - WORDS: EMMA SCHAFER

Tom Hill is gear­ing up to cy­cle from Lon­don to Monaco for cham­pagne with a prince. The gru­elling 1000km ride, which ends with an of­fi­cial L2M (Lon­don to Monaco) af­ter­party with Prince Al­bert II at his palace, takes in eight coun­tries over seven days to raise money for the Blue Marine Foun­da­tion.

And Tom, the 25-year-old di­rec­tor of River­gate Ma­rina & Ship­yard, will have more moun­tains to conquer than most. He has a rare and ag­gres­sive arthri­tis that eats away at his bones, mus­cles and lig­a­ments. Rid­ing in the same event in 2016 sparked the Run­away Bay man’s year-long quest for a di­ag­no­sis.

“Go­ing into the ride the first time I didn’t know I had a blood dis­ease,” says Tom, who has rep­re­sented Aus­tralia in swim­ming and cy­cles 350km ev­ery week.

“I knew I had an is­sue, but I didn’t know what it was. I would wake up in the morn­ing and feel­ing like I’d just done 1000 lunges.”

Even when his knee swelled so badly that he couldn’t fin­ish the last 200km of the 2016 ride, he had no idea of the dire di­ag­no­sis that was to come. Back home, his con­di­tion wors­ened un­til Tom was even­tu­ally left bedrid­den for most of 2017. He “saw ev­ery doc­tor you can imag­ine” seek­ing an­swers and was even­tu­ally di­ag­nosed and put on a chemo­ther­apy-like treat­ment. Doc­tors feared he would even­tu­ally lose his abil­ity to walk.

“I moved back into home be­cause I couldn’t get to the bath­room with­out some­one un­der my arms. Com­ing from an elite sports back­ground that was re­ally hard,” Tom says.

He cred­its his mum for get­ting him through the year. Tom’s par­ents are rich­lis­ters Bob Hill and Ju­dith Brins­mead who own con­struc­tion group ADCO and su­pery­acht re­fit and main­te­nance com­pany River­gate Ma­rina & Ship­yard. Judy also owns Trop­i­cal Fruit World in north­ern NSW.

“I’ve lived a very, very priv­i­leged life,” Tom ac­knowl­edges. “But with­out health that

“MY DI­AG­NO­SIS WAS THE START OF A LOT OF THINGS IN MY LIFE I TRIED TO START AND NEVER FIN­ISHED.”

means ab­so­lutely noth­ing. My di­ag­no­sis was the start of a lot of things in my life I tried to start and never fin­ished. That was re­ally hard for me be­cause once I set my­self a goal, I’m all in or noth­ing.”

Tom’s even­tual vic­to­ries were hard fought. Far from need­ing a wheel­chair, he is back on his bike and fit­ter than ever for his re­turn to the 2018 L2M.

“I’ve got a full-time coach … and this time last year he had me stand­ing up from a couch with­out us­ing my arms, and that was it.”

Tom is still un­der­go­ing med­i­cal treat­ment and is us­ing a trial drug he says is de­liv­er­ing as­tound­ing re­sults. Now, he has the French Alps in his sights.

“It has been re­ally chal­leng­ing hav­ing unfinished business and that’s why I want to do the ride again,” he says. “But I don’t just want to be there, I want to lead the group as well. I want to go to the front, or if some­one is hav­ing a bad day on the bike I want to help them men­tally or push them up the hill. This year I know I’m go­ing to fin­ish it. I’m in way bet­ter shape than in 2016.”

And when he does fin­ish, he will have earned the cham­pagne he will share with Prince Al­bert II at his palace.

“I will have lit­er­ally climbed some moun­tains to get to Monaco, and there’s some­thing nice about that,” Tom says.

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