Profile Series: Thomas Robb - From 0-100 Real Quick
With much likeness to some kind of Italian sports car, Tom has a truly inspirational story that takes him from 0-100 at incredible speed. He is 61, lives in South Belfast and initially took up cycling as a way to enhance his general fitness and help with weight control, just like many others.
In December 2018, whilst in the doctors for other reasons, a devastating discovery was made. It was found that Tom’s white blood cells were so low it was considered impossible for him to be riding the miles he was. “More blood tests followed and it was very quickly found that the root cause was that I had cancer of the variety know as Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma.” Affecting his blood, bone marrow and spleen which had ballooned from a normal 90 mm's to an incredible 240 mm's. 25 weeks of chemo' followed with pelvic biopsy's and many MRI-CT scans - “I could double as a fridge magnet at the weekends!” Tom jokes.
His experience of chemotherapy was a shock and he felt as though it completely shattered him. He struggled to even get from one room to another never mind get out on his bike. “At one point I became so reduced, that I joked I had to get a taxi from the living room to the kitchen.”
After the 25 weeks, when all of his treatment was completed successfully, he asked his doctors, in what he darkly referred to as ‘Cancer Club’ – ‘right, what do I do now?’ - “The doctor told me to stop eating any processed food and, critically for me, to get back on my bike and go at it as hard as I could.” This came as a shock to Tom as he was expecting his doctor to turn around and tell him to take it easy, to rest and not to overdo it. However, this oncologist understood that one of the best ways to prevent cancer returning is hard exercise. Which is what he was determined to do.
Armed with that knowledge, on the 5th March this year, he got his Specialised Hybrid out of storage and managed 4 difficult miles - “it damn near killed me” he admits. After pushing himself through a week of riding 4 miles a night, he decided to increase his distance to 6 miles. A week after that, 9 miles and then at the end of his first month back riding, he was doing 15 miles a night! An incredible achievement one month out of recovery. By gradually increasing the distance and building up his endurance he has managed to ride his way up to doing over 100 miles easily – “as of 2 Sundays ago, I am now able, without any preparation, to rise on any weekend and do over 100 miles easily.” Not only is 100 miles impressive but his proudest moment was when he did it over the Mourne mountains. From sea level to 2,970 feet high then circumscribing the mountains to ride back home.
The people he met throughout his experience with cancer and the subsequent chemo are absolutely stunned at what he has achieved - “I am 61 after all and by no means a skinny bloke”. At his last ‘Cancer Club’ clinic the oncologist stated that there wasn't any point in doing the full examination because, if he was doing those kind of miles there was ‘nothing wrong with him’. His hybrid and his road bike have taken him from 4 miles a night to well over 100 in 6 months, with a 12kg weight loss and an increase in fitness and stamina that could put some 30-year-olds to shame. “Chemo in any form is awful, but cycling allowed me to bring about a return to normality and wash away the residual effects of that chemo.”
What’s your personal mantra?
The bicycle Is not a cure for cancer, but it is most certainly a cure, for the cure for cancer
What makes you feel affiliated with FLAB?
I believe totally in the company's ethos that cycling is for all and not just the "stick thin" : too many cycling shops do not stock clothing above 2XL which I have always found very off putting / I fell very much ‘at home’ with FLAB. This very moment I am just back in from a blustery 28 miler in the superb bib tights, the heat retention is stunning! Interestingly, I bought size 6 for the long bib tights as that's the size that fitted me perfectly for the bib shorts. When I first tried them on I thought I'd made a mistake as they were tough to get on around my calf muscles and ankles. However, when out on the road, within 50 yards I discovered that the tight fit was superb as there was absolutely no wind drag at all. I've 3 rides done in them and cannot praise the build quality, fit and finish, enough.
What's your favourite thing to do after a grueling ride?
A hot shower and then a bowl of freezing cold milk, Special K and strawberries (I even keep my cereal bowls in the deep freeze so that the milk remains as cold as possible)
Do you have any plans for the future in terms of riding?
The next big deal for me is to break the 200 km's in one go and next spring do the Everest challenge.
Thanks to Tom, not only for sharing his incredible story showing us all how to bounce back from the difficult times, but also for the beautiful images he shot just for us. We feel honoured!