Edinburgh veteran with sight loss gets back on bicycle after 20 years

An Edinburgh veteran whose passion for cycling was halted by his sight loss has jumped back on the saddle for the first time in 20 years.

Monday, 21st January 2019, 1:17 pm
Updated Monday, 21st January 2019, 1:18 pm
Bryce gets back in the saddle on a VIE Velo tandem bike. Pic: Contributed

Bryce Campbell, 84, fell in love with bikes as a boy and took part in countless races and time trials, even pitching himself against Russian Olympians in the 1970s.

But when the grandfather was diagnosed with Glaucoma 20 years ago he was forced to stop riding, and in the last five years his sight has deteriorated extensively – now completely blind in one eye.

After also overcoming a life-threatening mystery illness three years ago, which at one point paralysed his vocal chords, the bubbly veteran has been enjoying trying out new activities at Scottish War Blinded’s Linburn Centre – the charity’s activity centre for veterans with sight loss in West Lothian.

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And after learning about his cycling background, the Linburn Centre staff have worked together with Cycling UK’s tandem cycling club for people with vision impairments, VIE Velo, to help Bryce get pedalling again with use of a tandem bike.

Bryce, who was assigned to the Royal Army Pay Corps when he undertook National Service in 1962, said: “It was fantastic. It was like low-level flying – I’ve always likened cycling to that. There’s nothing like it.

“There was no fear, it all just came back naturally to me.”

Bryce, who took up cycling as a sport from the age of about 14, went on: “You name it, I did it – time trials, road racing. I even raced against the Russian Olympic Team in the 1970s. That was when I was with the Velo Club Stella in Glasgow, a real racing club, and the club organised a race to give them some competition.

“I like to think I could have been a champion, but I wouldn’t train that hard because I just loved it too much. I was never that dedicated, I just loved cycling and competing.”

The VIE Velo team recently brought one of their tandem bikes to the Linburn Centre and, with centre officer James Gregson – also a keen cyclist – acting as pilot and Bryce taking the rear saddle, they were soon happily circling the activity hub’s grounds.

David Glover, Cycling UK’s senior development officer for the Edinburgh All-ability Bike Centre and VIE Velo, said: “It was a huge pleasure to meet Bryce and help him to regain his passion for cycling. It was obvious from the moment he got on the tandem that he was a very experienced cyclist who required very little encouragement to get up to speed straight away.

“At Vie Velo we support people with visual impairments to discover the joys of tandem cycling – whether they are experienced cyclists or have never ridden before. We’d encourage anyone to give it a go.”

Jumping back on the saddle has provided Bryce with the opportunity to reconnect with his beloved sport and share his cycling tales with fellow veterans supported by Scottish War Blinded.

Recalling his time cycling with Russian Olympians in 1972 as they toured Scotland for training, Bryce said: “The Russians wanted a training run, so we went round the Five Lochs.

“I remember one of them wasn’t feeling all that great and I tailed off with him – the rest left us miles ahead. Eventually he began to feel better and we caught the others in sight. There were about 60 in the race all together but we were in the first 20, so that was pretty good.

“I’ll always remember, at George Square in Glasgow we were stood talking after the race, then all of a sudden this great big bear of a man, he looked like the Michelin Man, gave me this huge bear hug and kissed me full on the lips, saying ‘Tovarich’, thanking me for helping this guy in the race.

“Cycling was more popular in those days. Every town had a cycling club. Bikes were affordable then – between you and the professionals there wasn’t that much difference in the bikes. Now the guys in the Tour de France are riding £30,000 bikes.”

Bryce, who is married with three children and has two grandchildren, has experienced a new lease of life at the Linburn Centre after suffering a period of severe illness that baffled doctors.

Medics conducted various tests but could not diagnose his symptoms, which he said were similar to that of a brain tumour and left his vocal chords paralysed, meaning he could not eat or drink.

But he recovered and now takes on daring hobbies at the activity hub including archery and white-water rafting.

And with the success of the tandem bike trial, the Linburn Centre are looking forward to hopefully bringing more of these cycling experiences to Scottish War Blinded members in 2019.

Rebecca Barr, director of Scottish War Blinded, said: “The staff at our Linburn Centre and our veterans alike have loved hearing about Bryce’s cycling adventures, and we’re so pleased we were able to work with Cycling UK to help him regain his love of the sport.

“Scottish War Blinded is focused on tailoring support to our members in ways most suited to them. Hobbies and interests are such a vital component of a person’s independence and identity, so we endeavour to find ways for our veterans to keep their passions going, despite their sight loss.”

The Linburn Centre offers activities for veterans with sight loss, with transport provided free of charge. Call 0800 035 6409 to refer a veteran to the charity.

To find out more about VIE Velo, please contact David Glover on 07500 069 357 or [email protected]

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