By Simon Richardson
Around a year ago, I was in the middle of a gruelling battle against drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), taking a cocktail of drugs with horrific side effects and fighting for my life. If you’d told me then that just over a year later I’d be a fully trained soldier and planning to cycle the length of Great Britain, I’d never have believed you.
But here I am. I wanted to mark a year free of TB by setting myself a real physical challenge by doing the legendary John O’Groats to Land’s End cycle ride – to prove to myself and the world that I’ve really got TB beat. It’s also the perfect opportunity to raise money for TB Alert, a charity that does crucial work helping people get into treatment for TB as early as possible, and supporting them through this traumatic time. I gave myself just six weeks to train for the ride in mid July and plan to complete it in just nine days, shaving three days off the average.
I’ve always liked a challenge, so I don’t see why I should stop now. I was diagnosed with TB back in late 2012 just after being selected for the army. I’d easily secured my place by passing all the fitness tests and exams, coming within the top two per cent of the country. So when I felt pains in the left side of his chest when I breathed deeply, I thought I’d just pulled a muscle at the gym. It was only when the pain got worse that I saw my GP, who sent me for tests. That’s when I got the worst news I could imagine – my army career was over before it started – I had TB.
I started on TB treatment, trying to cope the best I could with the awful side effects and symptoms, which included coughing up blood, major night sweats and complete and utter exhaustion doing the smallest task. Then three months into treatment I got some even more devastating news. Doctors told me that the drugs weren’t working, and that in fact I had multi-drug resistant TB. This meant even more gruelling treatment with a cocktail of drugs over many months. I had such terrible side effects I even had to be readmitted to hospital.
My specialist put me in touch with TB Alert, and the charity helped me understand that TB doesn’t have to kill – it’s not knowing that you have TB that can kill – and that as long as I took my treatment everything would be fine. I’ve been determined not to let TB hold me back. While I was being treated, I did my first challenge for TB Alert, raising £4,000 by rowing the equivalent of the English Channel in my local gym. It was completely exhausting, but I got an immense sense of achievement, especially as I was still unwell at the time. Then things started to turn around. Just three months after getting the all clear, I was reselected for the army. I finally fulfilled that lifelong ambition, completing the challenging six-month Combat Infantryman’s Course at Catterick, North Yorkshire. One of only 15 to finish the training out of 63 of who started , I even came out with the highest award for the fittest recruit.
I’m now based in Woolwich in London, serving in the Second Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, which will be posted to Cyprus for three years in August. I can’t wait to get another challenge under my belt.
Please sponsor me and help someone else to beat TB like I did: www.justgiving.com/Simon-Richardson7
TB Alert is the UK’s national tuberculosis charity: www.tbalert.org. They are the Department of Health’s lead partner in raising awareness about TB in the UK through The Truth About TB programme: www.thetruthabouttb.org.
TB kills 3 people a minute globally and there are nearly 9,000 cases a year in the UK annually.