Can’t is not a word that mum-of-two Nicola Forbes allows in her vocabulary. After being told by doctors that she had developed multiple sclerosis at the age of 41, her response was to go straight from her doctor appointment back to work.
When pins and needles in her feet and legs made running less enjoyable, she got on her bike instead and started training for the 66-mile
Etape Loch Ness – an event she completed almost two hours quicker than predicted.
Now, almost two years after the devastating diagnosis, she will once again show MS who the boss is by taking part in the sportive for the second year running and plans to set another personal best in the process.
“The day I was diagnosed with MS I realised that I had a choice. I could either sit on the couch and cry about it, or I could get on with my life. I chose to get on with my life,” says Nicola (42), from Inverness.
“I went back to work that afternoon and that weekend I rented a kayak. It was always something that I’d wanted to try, so I decided to give it a go. I want to enjoy my life, not feel sorry for myself, and instead of focusing on the things I may no longer be able to do, I focus on what I can do.
“I think the key to coping with a condition like MS is talking to people about it. I’ve never hidden my diagnosis and I talk openly about it. I know that some people keep it to themselves, but I think doing that only allows the illness to eat away at them.”
Nicola will be among more than 4,000 riders taking part in Etape Loch Ness on April 24 – a 66-mile cycling event around the world famous loch. Roads are closed for the event, allowing cyclists to take in the breath taking scenery in a traffic-free environment.
She decided to challenge herself by taking part in the event last year, and on her entry form predicted that she would take almost six hours to complete. But she blasted her way around the course and crossed the line in 3:53:00.
Nicola says, “I couldn’t believe what I had achieved and I was quite emotional when I finished. I realised then that I would never just give in to MS.
“I took part last year on a bike that was 13 years old, so this year I’ve splashed out on a new bike and I’m aiming to take another 10 minutes off my time.”
Nicola, a car dealership business sales manager, started experiencing tingling in her legs up to her groin, in 2014. At the time, she was training for a duathlon, but continued on with her almost daily runs.
The sensation eventually travelled into her fingers and hands, and she then made an appointment with the doctor.
“It was a very odd sensation, almost like my feet felt claustrophobic in my shoes. I then started to get tingling in my groin and my hands, and eventually it travelled into my chest.
“I remember doing some internet research and MS came up as a possible cause, but as I didn’t have any other symptoms like feeling tired or unwell, I thought it couldn’t possibly be something like that.
“I had a lot of tests and x-rays and one by one they came back and the doctors were able to rule out lots of different conditions. They advised me not to take part in the duathlon and I had a horrible weekend at home when I wished I could be out taking part.
“A few months later I went for a scan and they could see inflammation in my neck. It was then that they diagnosed MS. It’s not uncommon for people to be diagnosed at my age, but because it has not advanced much in the past year or so we hope that it will not progress too much,” Nicola explains.
Nicola now follows a blood type diet, along with multi-vitamins, for her condition and is not following any medication. She no longer runs because of MS, but is grateful that she has now discovered a real passion for cycling.
As soon as she got her place in Etape Loch Ness she went out to cycle part of the route on a training run. The event starts and finishes in Inverness, and takes in some of the most beautiful scenery in the Highlands.
It passes through lochside villages and after emerging from Fort Augustus that cyclists encounter one of the toughest parts of the course. The King of the Mountain stage is a 4.8 mile climb which rises to 380m in height
She explains, “On that training run, I was tingling in my finger tips and I stopped during that cycle and cried my eyes out. But it wasn’t because of the MS – I was just so glad that I was alive and lucky to be well enough to be out cycling in such beautiful countryside.
“Etape Loch Ness was a fantastic event and my first experience of taking part in a mass participation event on a closed road. I’ll never forget those first few miles and hearing what I thought was a swarm of bees as a group of cyclists came from behind and surrounded me. It was scary when at first because I was used to cycling on my own.
“I cannot wait to take part again this year. I am desperate to beat my time but it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t. The main thing is just taking part – that and plotting to go back the following year and definitely beat my time!”
For more information visit www.etapelochness.com, or follow Etape Loch Ness on social media on Facebook www.facebook.com/etapelochness and Twitter @EtapeLochNess Entries for the 2017 event will open in the autumn.