Darlington Cycling Club: Graham Wanless’s story

Graham Wanless, from Darlington Cycling Club

Meet Graham Wanless, who had an aortic valve replacement two years ago, and is looking forward to notching up half a million miles on his bike.

People are often surprised to hear that Graham Wanless cycles 300 miles a week at the age of 71. And they’re usually even more surprised to hear that he can do this after having a heart valve replaced two years ago.

Cyclists certainly don’t come much keener than Graham, a retired lab technician. He reached his lifetime total of 500,000 miles cycled in November 2013 and received a congratulations card from the club. He says: "Here's to the next half million miles!"

As well as riding on his own, he goes out with the club four times a week.

He says: “I just like going out on the road and finding new places. There’s not a road within a 60-mile radius of Darlington that I haven’t cycled on. I don’t need a map or a satnav, I have got my own map in my head.”

He doesn’t allow rain to put him off – “unless it is really pouring down”, and he cycles right through the winter too.

Graham’s cycling career started by going out on rides with his dad. He was a teenager when he started to outstrip his dad – who told him to go and join a cycling club. As he puts it, “So I did, and I have never looked back.”

The only time Graham has been off his bike was when he was recovering from heart valve surgery. He didn’t realise he had a narrowed aortic valve until he had a couple of spells of feeling sick and dizzy.

I keep telling people I have an ambition to ride 100 miles on my 100th birthday

He says: “I didn’t realise I had a heart problem. In June or July 2011 I was sitting at home when I had a dizzy spell and felt sick. I thought no more of it – I thought it was something I had eaten. A couple of weeks later I was out shopping with my wife, and I went up two flights of stairs in the department store and again felt dizzy and sick. I went to the doctor on the way home, and he sent me to see a specialist.

“I found out I had a severely restricted aortic valve and I had an operation to have it replaced a few weeks later. They cut my chest right open and then put it back together. I have got a scar from my collarbone to the bottom of my sternum, but really you can hardly see it – it is just a fine red line now.

Darlington Cycling Club group rear “I didn’t do any exercise after the operation until the cardiac nurse came round. She said I could do five minutes a day on a turbo trainer (which is a bike on a stand a bit like an exercise bike) and then the following week I could build up to ten minutes a day, and then the following week I could do 15 minutes a day.

He says: “It took quite a while to get back to what I considered to be fitness, but I think that was because I’d had all that time off riding my bike as much as anything.

“By the time I built my fitness up again I felt much better than I did before the operation. Before it all happened I was finding it hard to ride my bike, but I was knocking on 70 and I thought it was my age. Now I keep telling people I have an ambition to ride 100 miles on my 100th birthday.”

Graham even rode around Ireland with another club member, Norman Edwards, six or seven months after his operation.

Graham also cycles a tandem with his wife Ann, and women are welcome to join the group.

When you go out in a group there is all the banter and the craic

He finds there are many joys of cycling, but the countryside and the company are two of the best. “The great thing about cycling is going out in the countryside, breathing the fresh air. You see things that you don’t see in a car.

"And when you go out in a group there is all the banter and the craic, taking the mickey out of people. It’s the companionship. Our group are a great bunch, but I’ve found other cycling groups are the same. We met up with a group from Northern Ireland on a cycling holiday recently and it was like they were old friends.”

For Graham, the club is “an added reason to ride”. “I would go out anyway, but the group is a bonus. And some people don’t like to cycle on their own. You can chat to somebody, you get a bit of shelter behind someone if it is windy. I would recommend it to anyone, to go out on a bike.”

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