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Eight weeks after stroke and learning to walk, Belfast man cycles to fifth at Gran Fondo

By Jonny Bell

A Belfast man is on cloud nine after coming fifth in Sunday's Gran Fondo cycle race - just eight weeks after suffering a stroke which badly affected his balance.

Jeremy Gardiner completed Sunday's Gran Fondo Strangford race in fifth position, just two seconds off the winner.

And what makes the accomplishment all the more impressive, is that the 42-year-old suffered a stroke in April and had to re-learn how to walk and cycle before pedalling off on Sunday.

"I'm just elated," he told the Belfast Telegraph, "I am just on cloud nine."

Back in April Jeremy suffered two strokes, one at his visual cortex and another at the cerebellum.

He says the first one had no real impact, but the second completely knocked him off balance.

"It was the most scary experience of my life," he said.

"I wasn't feeling too well and was deciding to go off on a run and stood up and just lost my balance."

Jeremy suffered a similar incident as Ulster Rugby player Chris Henry. Both physically fit men were struck down as result of a blood clot.

He was in hospital for three days and needed physiotherapy to help with his coordination for things like drinking a cup of tea and he had to learn how to walk again.

Given how his balance was affected, he also had to learn how to cycle a bike.

Jeremy continued: "I loved to cycle, nothing serious just recreational and I asked about getting back onto the road and the doctors said no.

"So I started on a static bike and then around the garden before heading out on the road with friends."

Incredibly, just four weeks after his stroke, Jeremy was able to complete an 18 mile cycle.

"It was awful," he said.

"I felt heavy, my legs were heavy, I couldn't get up a hill and I just thought this isn't going to happen.

"So I just thought 'ok, now I have to train for this and build up my strength'."

Business executive coach Jeremy found himself having to put into practice the lessons he delivers to industry leaders on a daily basis on how to overcome adversity and on being resilient before he rolled up to the start of Sunday's Gran Fondo.

"I was on the front row at the start and there was a guy there Chris who had won it last year and I just thought I'd see how long I could stick to him and I surprised myself."

Agonisingly for Jeremy he was within touching distance of winning the race until the final corner.

"It was a fantastic day, a really well organised event.

"For me it wasn't about coming fifth," he said, "It was just that I was able to do it in the first place."

Jeremy is still feeling the affects of his stroke. He still suffers brain damage and requires rehabilitation.

He added: "I'm not there yet... People think I've come a long way, but given the concentration levels needed for work, I'm only on half days at the minute.

"I just decided that I didn't want this to define me. For me its as much mental as it is physical. I want to live life and embrace it, and this is not going to stop me."

Wife Catherine said it was emotional to see her husband in the first group given the couple's past eight weeks.

"It was a shock - regardless of his stroke - I never expected to see him in the final group."

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