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How a personal setback led Dubai resident Jimmy Wright to attempt cycling 600km to raise awareness on children’s cancer
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Prior to March 2021, Jimmy and Abbie Wright had been leading lives that came close to defining happily ever after.
Jimmy was a football manager for a rugby team after being discharged from the Australian military after 19 years of service while Abbie, who was also in the military, had just been promoted to the rank of ‘Major’.
The couple wasn’t just thriving professionally, but personally too, being hands-on parents to their three children — Macey, Rafferty, and Lennox.
And then a game of touch football changed the course of their lives. Playing the game one day with her colleagues, Abbie groaned in pain when the ball hit her chest. When it continued to feel “tender” after a few days, Abbie, then 36, decided to visit a breast clinic.
“I had taken my laptop thinking I would also finish my work while waiting for my turn at the doctor’s.
I remember seeing these lovely volunteers who were baking banana bread. What I did not understand then was that the longer you stay there, the worse it is for you.
” The red flag was raised by the doctor, who pointed to the fact that it could be breast cancer. A day later, a scan confirmed the diagnosis.
A cancer diagnosis changes lives. From having a loved one witness your life (and vice versa), you suddenly find yourself becoming a witness to their suffering.
What was even more difficult for Jimmy, who then worked in Sydney, and Abbie, who lived with the kids in Brisbane, was that their jobs demanded them to maintain a level of fitness.
And given that they were healthy eaters, how could she be afflicted by Big C?
When we meet the couple at their residence in Palm Jumeirah, Abbie says she has often looked back at that time, wondering if it was because she never had any time for herself. “I used to have a nine-hour workday, which was normal.
And then I’d get home and pick three kids from three different locations, bring them home, prepare dinner, and take them for sporting activities.
I didn’t have a lot of time for myself, and often wonder if I did have it, would I have picked up the symptoms early?” she asks. Looking back, Jimmy says the journey to acceptance was all about dealing with the “here and now, and sort of get through with it rather than thinking about catastrophic things”.
Dealing with an illness is a lonely journey not only for the person who suffers from it, but also the near and dear ones. The couple also had to find a language to explain Abbie’s condition to their kids, especially seven-year-old Macey, who was particularly close to her.
Today, the 10-year-old remembers that as a time when she was really scared that “something bad was going to happen to mom”. “But when we went to see her at the hospital, we knew she would fight it,” Macey recalls.
One of the couple’s coping strategies has been to count their blessings. And that’s when Abbie told Jimmy, “The only thing that could have been worse would be if one of our children was unlucky enough to have contracted the disease.”
The words stirred something inside Jimmy, and being a doting parent himself, he began to think of all that he could do to help families that were actually living the nightmare of seeing their children battle cancer.
By then, the couple had already moved to Dubai with their children (Abbie had undergone chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and a double mastectomy and reconstruction, and was declared cancer-free by her doctor), and Jimmy set himself a Herculean task he now plans to fulfil at any cost in early November — cycling 600+ km from the border of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Ras Al Khaimah in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record in support of children’s cancer.
“I am grateful to have partnered with Cohesion and The DXB Club on this exciting journey. Both are leading organisations that believe in community engagement, support and have strong values of giving back. They have demonstrated this by their unwavering and dedicated support in our mission to raise funds and awareness on children’s cancer.”
Today, as he goes about fulfilling his fatherly duties during the day, he reserves night-time for practice.
Why cycling? “Socially, I have enjoyed cycling. I feel this attempt is going to charge me emotionally, mentally and physically,” says the 39-year-old.
Every day, the training varies, depending on work, family, and kids, among other commitments, but one 11-hour training session included an eight-hour period of riding throughout the night, stopping for less than two hours of sleep.
“I mix long, slow-distance sessions and intervals throughout the week,” says Jimmy.
The eight hours and 38 minutes of cycling meant Jimmy covered 233 km.
He understands that covering 600+ km as fast as possible will be a different ballgame altogether. “The weather conditions are going to play an important role.
Whether it’s the temperature or the wind or sandstorm, all of this will influence the outcome. I also realise that once I have cycled for 12-15 hours, there will be some issues physically, mentally and emotionally,” he admits.
But what Jimmy understands as deeply is that the cause is bigger than anything he might feel on the day he attempts the world record.
He says that any discomfort that he may feel on the day will be temporary and go away in a few days. “But the suffering of the children who have cancer and their families is, unfortunately, not so shortlived.
I will be doing this for them,” he says, adding, “Also, when I think about what Abbie has gone through, this feels like nothing. It drives me to continue to pedal.”
This notion of a cause bigger than themselves is common to Abbie too, who recalls a time during her illness when all the attention was on her.
“When going through the treatment, I felt everyone focused on me — Jim, my mum, and the doctors. I was sick of me,” laughs Abbie.
“Surely, there was more to the world than just me. That’s when I began to reach out to other people who were suffering from cancer and started helping out. When you focus on other people, you realize this is much bigger than you,” she says.
No wonder Jimmy’s endeavor means so much more to the couple than a physical challenge. It is a life lesson: to live in the moment and continue to give back while you can.
Also while cancer does leave the body, it seldom leaves the mind, with a fear of relapse often taking over a person’s mind. Abbie puts this in perspective when she says that her doctors have told her to wait five years to make sure the cancer does not return.
When she asked them how a person lives with that fear, she was told, “You just have to learn to deal with it.” That one sentence has meant every time Abbie experiences a headache or a niggling pain, she wonders if the cancer has returned.
“You have to reason with yourself,” she says. “I am eating healthy, exercising, making sure my head does not run away with negative ideas.”
Jimmy, on the other hand, says young couples with children always aspire for a future at the cost of the present. “You chase investments, jobs, and everything that secures your future,” he observes.
“But sometimes, all you have to do is to be present at the moment and prioritize short-term goals over long-term ones.” Something Jimmy will probably be reminding himself as he sets out to cycle 600 kilometers.