‘I wouldn’t be representing my country if it wasn’t for what happened’

Every time I race or train I just want to show people that if a brain injury or something like that does happen then there’s a way back

Richael Timothy’s involvement in Para-Cycling stems from an acquired brain injury following radio surgery for a rare condition known as HHT (Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia).

“In 2015 I had radio surgery for a brain AVM, which is like a malformation of the artery. It was just supposed to be a one-day thing but unfortunately it led to swelling. Then in 2016, I just woke up and didn’t have any feeling down my right-hand side so we thought it was a stroke because the symptoms were similar,” she said.

“When it happened and I lost the power in my right side, I was a bit naïve in thinking that in a few months it would come back. I was in hospital at the time of the Rio Olympics and I remember watching it in the stroke unit thinking I’d be back for a county semi-final two weeks later.

“I was literally going month to month and then when the months started to tick by and I was having the treatment and the swelling had gone but the damage was done, that’s when I realised I didn’t really have anything to fall back on. I was doing Sports Science in college, working in a gym, everything revolved around movement and being physically able.

“When that was taken away I suppose I needed something to focus on. I wouldn’t have read a book or something like that so it was definitely mentally challenging.

“I needed sport and I found the cycling and that gave me a new lease of life and something to focus on. It wasn’t even about being competitive at that stage, just about getting out there,” she said.

Richael’s journey to Tokyo hasn’t been without its dark days.

“It was a shock because I was 21 and fit and healthy and in the space of a week everything had changed. At that age you think you’ll get better and get back to it. Getting better for me was being back playing football but for the doctors it was walking out of hospital,” she said.

Looking back ahead of next week’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Richael can afford to be philosophical.

“I wouldn’t be representing my country on the world stage if it wasn’t for what happened to me. Every time I race or train I just want to show people that if a brain injury or something like that does happen then there’s a way back.

“When I do get to the start line in Tokyo I think I’ll finally be able to come to terms with the fact that what happened might have happened for a reason. I’m here competing for my country, putting out the best times I can, and just showing people that no matter what your disability or background, sport is a massive thing that can help with every aspect of life,” she said.

The 26-year-old is also taking inspiration from some of her fellow athletes.

“At the Paralympics you see amazing things and people who have overcome things that they shouldn’t have I suppose, and then sport brought us all together.

“There are days when I wake up and I think about the weakness on my right side. The first thing I do is to try and move my fingers and my toes and then I think ‘Oh crap!’ But I get up and I know I’m going cycling and know that I have this to do and this is now who I am. It’s pretty amazing,” she said.