If I can do it, everyone can!
After a lung transplant and having cystic fibrosis, cycling is an achievement in itself. But Tom went for more. He climbed the Dolomites with Climbing for Life, a sporting event that not only supports organizations helping diabetes and lung disease patients but promotes research. Promoting research. Many of his Umicore colleagues joined him to complete a beautiful tour of the Dolomites by cycling, walking, or running.
“I want it, so I’ll make it work” – that’s the attitude of Tom, EHS domain expert at Precious Metals Refining in Belgium, who not only participated in Climbing for Life this year but was even chosen as an ambassador. “It all started when I saw the initiative being advertised at Umicore. I wanted to join this sporting event with my colleagues, but first I needed a health check and my doctor’s OK”. Tom was born with cystic fibrosis, a lung autoimmune disease that causes patients to suffer, among other things, from frequent lung infections, and 10 years ago Tom underwent a double lung transplant. “It was a very important moment in my life. Although it was very hard and intensive for my body, I was happy to receive it. I knew that this made my goal of climbing the mountains a bigger challenge, but I was determined to do it.”
“I went for a medical check and my doctor suggested me as an ambassador. It was like a roller coaster from then on. I had a major health examination, which meant cycling with a mask, wearing a heart monitor and learning about my muscles and bones. I got a specific trainer and a training plan. Suddenly, I was cycling three times a week, that’s nine hours every week on the bike”. Training for such a big event is challenging in itself, and Tom hit obstacles along the way. “I started training in January and a few weeks later I was diagnosed with diabetes, something that is very common with the transplant medication. This impacted my diet and the way I was eating so I had to learn how to do that properly as well”.
Being an ambassador for the organization meant that Tom had a lot of support. Dietmar, his coach, is a professional cyclist himself. He helped Tom train and build up his resistance, paying special attention to his 61% lung capacity and needs.
“From the moment I signed up as an ambassador, I was fully committed. I used to cycle about 80kms a week. Now I can cycle 250kms. It was difficult to balance my job and my wife, but I had a great support system. My colleagues constantly asked me about my rides and how I was coping. That made me feel great and gave me lots of motivation”.
Enjoying the view
All of a sudden, it was D-day. “We had famous singers and cyclists riding with us, which attracted a lot of media attention for this important event. We all felt like pros”. The 1,000 participants included 104 Umicore colleagues. “It was 22 degrees in Italy, with beautiful scenery and lots of cyclists, but we really stood out. Everyone wore their Umicore uniform with pride, and although as an ambassador I had a different gear, I made sure to have the logo on my saddle so they’d recognize me along the way.”
I definitely had the motivation, but I felt fear as well. “You push yourself to the limit and that’s OK because everybody else is also doing it. We were all targeting the same goal with passion. I was more scared of disappointing my colleagues, the organization, and the sponsors.”
Fifty-two kilometers, 1,500 m elevation gain and four big climbs later, Tom was very proud: “I was emotional. No tears though” he reassured us, laughing. “You are tired and stressed about doing well, so getting there feels incredible. What I learned is that when you are so focused on the goal, you often forget about enjoying the ride. My buddy, who rode with me, reminded me after the first climb, to look around at what was happening and the beautiful scenery. That’s something you definitely don’t forget.”
“My favorite part? The descents. I didn’t have to make so much effort then.” After this great experience Tom wants to keep ongoing and plans to help next year’s ambassadors with their journey and perhaps challenge himself for a triathlon. “I am a bad runner and I hate going slowly, so that will be an even bigger challenge, but why not? I hope other colleagues will join more and more events like this. The bigger the group, the more you feel the support. If I can do it, everyone can!”