Tim Neal lives with osteoarthritis and has endured several major operations on his joints. But that won’t stop him competing next month in the Le Mans Pearl Izumi 24 hour cycling race in France and raising money for Arthritis New Zealand.

Tim was first diagnosed with osteoarthritis when he was in his twenties. Then, when he was in his mid-forties his neck collapsed; he was bent double with agonising pain and could barely shuffle half a dozen steps.

“In short, I thought my life was over!”

It was a defining moment. Tim weighed 136 kg and smoked heavily but after complex surgery to reconstruct his neck with titanium rods, screws and wires, he vowed to turn his life around. Less than 48 hours after the operation, he got out of bed and walked unaided out of the hospital and down two flights of stairs.

“I vowed on that day to make changes to my life, to live to the fullest and show respect for the hard work of the doctors and nurses who gave me back my life.”

Tim Neal #24hrTim Fundraiser and blogger

 Tim ditched the cigarettes, worked hard with a physiotherapist for months, joined a gym and had ongoing support from many people to get back on his feet. He decided to buy a bike, having previously learnt how good cycling was for his joints. He started to ride, and ride some more. A decade on, now aged 56, he’s still riding every day.

Now he’s in training as #24HrTim for the Le Mans Pearl Izumi cycling race in France on 26 and 27 August this year where he’ll be cycling for 24 hours nonstop with a personal target of 600kms. More than 4000 riders from 20 countries are expected to take part.

Tim is riding for Arthritis New Zealand because he wants to give back to the people who’ve helped him on his journey with osteoarthritis. He’s in a good place now, and wants to encourage others to get there too.

 “It’s always been very important to me to give back to the people who have aided me. Every kilometre I’m able to cover now is a celebration of life and a thank you to my partner and all my supporters along the way.

“No matter what your age, a diagnosis of arthritis is a difficult change to come to terms with. I want to encourage others who live with arthritis to do the single best thing in their lives – keep moving.”

Just 18 months after his neck surgery, Tim fronted up at the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge and rode 320kms in two laps of the lake. He’s done it four times since, in spite of coping with a hip replacement followed by a lumbar spinal fusion.

“Eight months after my hip replacement I was back at the lake for not two, but four laps or 640kms. The lumbar surgery, I have to say, knocked the stuffing out of me and it’s taken two long years of pain and suffering to get back to feeling human and in a place where I can look ahead to more ultra-distance cycling challenges.”

Tim now feels literally thousands of kilometres away from his previous lifestyle. “I’m a different man now.”

You can follow Tim’s training blog and donate to support him and Arthritis New Zealand at https://24hrtim.everydayhero.com/nz/tim