For the first time in Tristan Ward’s competitive cycling career, he has had to get used to having hairy legs.
The Canberran has also had to get used to dealing with crippling pain down one leg from what he thought was an old person’s injury – a herniated disc in his back. The debilitating spinal injury has left him on a long road to recovery, but one that has seen Canberra and the wider cycling community come to the rescue.
Wardy, as he is known on and off the bike, has been riding for Australia’s premier road cycling team Bridgelane (formerly known as Bennelong SwissWellness). He has won races in the national road series, podiumed at the Australian National Criterium and raced in Europe, China and South Korea.
He turned 25 in August but there was no celebration as he has been struggling to walk, sleep and deal with the crippling pain of the back injury which also meant he had to stop working for the mowing franchise he had just set up.
A sprinter on the bike who enjoys a tussle towards the finish line, Ward says he is indebted to the people around him who set up a fundraising page to get the $22,000 needed for surgery that will allow him to make a full recovery.
The Go Fund Me page saw more than 200 donors raise the $22,000 required in less than seven days.
After ditching strong medication that made him feel constantly groggy, he said he has been in constant pain for the past five months while facing a two-year wait for surgery in the public system.
“It was going to be a six-month wait just to get an appointment,” Ward tells Region Media. “By that point, my chance a 100 per cent recovery decreased significantly.”
Not one to ask for help, Ward’s friends and those in the cycling community have raised the money to make the surgery happen.
“This disc is bulging from his spine and catching on his S1 nerve, causing severe pain down his leg. Surgery is his only option for recovery. He could be walking again in five weeks,” said fundraiser organiser Angharad Llewellyn.
“One thing is for certain and that’s the fact that no 25-year-old should be in this position dealing with this alone.”
Ward said his mental health had declined rapidly but he is “beyond humbled” by the cycling community which has stepped up when he couldn’t even take two steps without pain.
“It’s been really painful and there’s been no relief, even from the medications I was given. I’m just so very lucky to have this support when lots of other people in my position just have to wait it out,” he says.
“You could be someone new to town and don’t have the support that I do, so I think it’s a big issue for people who have to wait in pain when they shouldn’t have to.
“It’s like being given a huge hug from everyone you know at the same time. It’s a tad overwhelming because I did feel like hiding for a while there, but it definitely shows the support and generosity of the Canberra community and even people who I’ve raced against and are fierce competitors on the bike.
“I had to tell one of my closest rivals who donated that I’m going to have to thank him when I beat him next time we race,” he laughs.
He said the injury started as a niggling pain in his glute and gradually deteriorated before a scan confirmed the disc had herniated. His next steps are to have another MRI scan before the relatively simple surgery takes place that will shave some of the bone in his spine while also taking the pressure off the nerve.
He said having such as debilitating back injury at such a young age was a big wake-up call that changed his life.
“I’m not very good at being a fatso lying around, watching TV and being unfit. I don’t even like looking at my hairy legs,” he says.