A broken neck can’t keep him down
Peter Loft dedicated his life to training disabled athletes to run marathons, but after a freak mountain bike accident he feared he would never be able to walk again.
It took a phone call from his 10-year-old grandson to get Loft back on his bike as he recovered from a broken neck. Under a year later, he’s preparing to walk 6.5km in the the Cigna Round the Bays event in Wellington in February.
Loft had been riding on the Pukete track north of the Hamilton city centre on Waitangi weekend when on his fourth lap he decided if he didn’t use his brakes he would be faster.
The decision proved to be his undoing - he came off his bike so heavily that it cracked his bike helmet and also broke the C1 and C2 vertebrae, T4 and T6 a little finger and suffered a concussion.
‘‘I’ve got no recollection of the accident but the wheel must have buckled and I flipped over.’’
As Loft lay there unable to move or talk, he thought: ‘s*** I’m a tetraplegic’. He slowly started getting feeling in his hand and limbs and was able to stand up. He made it back to his car and drove himself home.
‘‘I’ve got no recollection of driving home. It’s just as well I have tinted windows as I had blood all over my face and it didn’t look very pretty at all.’’
His wife thought he had broken a collarbone as he was favouring one shoulder. After a little while, he went to move and couldn’t he realised then something was wrong.
They rung an ambulance and it took 90 minutes to get him out of the house due to having to strap him up correctly.
The staff at Waikato Hospital confirmed that he had a broken neck. He was put in a ward and for two days Loft didn’t know if he would walk again and that ‘‘scared the hell out of me.’’
After MRI and CT scans they decided that they could do an interior stabilisation operation – ‘‘which means a bit holds my head on.’’
Recovery is ongoing for Loft. He has physio every week, has found it frustrating from being a very active person to not knowing if he would be able to get on his bike again.
Loft is a co-founder of Achilles International New Zealand and for 25 years has been helping athletes with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics.
When faced with the possibility of not walking again it scared him.
‘‘I will never be 100 per cent again, I will get to 80 – 80 per cent in terms of neck movement – I have pain but I don’t take pain medication as long as I do regular exercises and keep good posture of titanium it’s manageable.’’
While in hospital Loft set a goal of getting back on his bike by August. However, when the deadline rolled around he was struggling for motivation and felt depressed until he got a phone call.
‘‘My 10-year-old grandson rang me up and said ‘Pop, I’m coming down I’ve got my bike and we are going for a bike ride’. I did two kilometres and I felt really good.
‘‘Then the next weekend I rode 20 kilometres with them and I’ve been back on it ever since.’’
Round the Bays will be the first training milestone for Loft who is aiming to complete his 25th marathon in New York in November.