From hospital bed to podium
What started as the road to recovery after a heart attack and bypass surgery, became a journey that took Peter all the way to the NZ cycling championships and an age-group world record.
10 years ago, Peter had no reason to think he was a likely candidate for heart disease. At 78, he still worked on his Invercargill deer farm and kept fit with local cycling and running clubs. He was a non-smoker, with no symptoms or family history of heart disease.
So when the heart attack came it was a complete surprise.
“It was quite sudden. I’d just come inside after drilling a post hole out in the paddock,” Peter recalls. “I was relaxing sitting in the chair and my daughter comes in and says, ‘Dad you don’t look very well.’ And I stood up and I collapsed – just like that. That was my heart attack.”
Once the ambulance had made it out to the farm, the paramedics carried out an ECG and then took Peter straight to Southland Hospital where it was confirmed he’d had a heart attack.
A few months later he had an angiogram at Dunedin hospital which showed that Peter needed coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Four months after that he returned to Dunedin hospital for a triple bypass.
Recovering after bypass surgery
After surgery, Peter approached his recovery with typical determination. Even so, he was nervous when starting to exercise again, despite his good physical fitness in the lead up to the event.
“The first six weeks you are a bit cautious because you are not quite sure what will happen to you,” he says. “But it was all good and I was determined to come right and remain positive. So, I did a lot of walking after the initial operation and I went out every day – at a leisurely pace, obviously.”
As he was walking on his own, Peter found it reassuring to know that other people were looking out for him.
“I have neighbours to keep an eye on me while I was walking. It is quite good when you are in the country, people are aware of you and when you walk past people wave and check you out.”
Back on the bike
As his recovery progressed, Peter decided to get back on his bike. “I pedaled slowly and gradually built up fitness until I got my confidence back.”
As his fitness improved, he started doing some laps at the Invercargill Velodrome, where he caught the attention of a local cycling coach.
“I was fortunate at the time because they had an Olympic coach down there at the velodrome. He was a coach for the para-olympic team and he took an interest in me and asked if he could give me a bit of coaching. He just wanted to know what an old fellow could do.”
As it turned out the “old fellow” could do quite a lot.
Cycling hobby becomes a passion
With the help of his coach, Peter soon started competing in cycling events and has gone on to win numerous gold medals at New Zealand championships. He has competed in international events and in 2016 he achieved a world record for greatest distance covered in an hour in the 80-84 age-group.
“I went to the World Masters Games in 2017 and because I was the only entrant in my age group I had to ride with the younger ones which was quite good.” He came home with four gold medals, and four New Zealand age-group records.
He’s also taken part in a number of endurance events on the road, including the Heart Foundation’s former Great Southern Cycle Challenge.
Now 88, Peter has no plans to put his bike away any time soon.
“I think biking is good for endurance. On a good week I probably do about 200 kms on the road. I’ve not got nothing else much more to do now and I’d like to be a Heart Foundation Heart Racer again sometime soon.”
Getting your confidence back
Peter’s main message to others recovering from a heart attack is that the best way to regain your confidence is to get out there and give things a go.
“You haven’t got the confidence to begin with, but if you don’t get out there you are not going to improve,” he says. “So, you got to get up and try and not be concerned that something may go wrong. Keep going, do it gradually, and then you will regain your confidence.”
Shared July 2019