In 2008, James Golding’s life changed. He was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that, at its worst, would put him in intensive care and an induced coma. It didn’t look like he would survive. But less than 10 years later he would break the 7-day cycling world record despite having had no interest in bikes before his illness.
James was a fit 28-year-old when he received his diagnosis. The symptoms had started with an intense back pain that doctors eventually discovered was being caused by a grapefruit-sized tumor in his abdomen.
Surgeons were unable to operate, so James underwent an extremely strong course of chemotherapy, with his nurse describing his prescription as one of the most poisonous she’d ever come across.
The treatment was effective at slowly destroying his cancer, but it also ran James into the ground. It hugely depleted his immune system and ended up killing a number of his vital cells and tubes.
It got to the point that James needed to be put into a coma and when he came round, he didn’t know where he was and could barely lift his head off his pillow. He says the only way he got through the ordeal was by taking “one day at a time”.
When he was eventually released, he picked up a bike that was lying around the house by chance and took it to the local reservoir. It was only a five-mile cycle, but James looks back on it as a watershed moment.
"I hadn't felt so free for a very long time,” he says. “It gave me a way to escape the treatment and to be active after months of being bed-bound, then in a wheelchair and using a zimmer-frame."
He kept taking the bike out every day, purely for the thrill he got while riding it, and eventually started going further and further.
When he was told he was in remission in 2009, he decided he wanted a huge physical challenge to give something back to the charities that had supported him during his illness, and settled on riding from L.A. to Miami.
"The challenge gave me something to focus on,” he says. “I wanted to do something that typified what it was to be a cancer patient.”
James’ adventure was going smoothly until he got to New Orleans. That was where the trip would end as he got hit by a truck and landed himself back in hospital in a cruel twist of fate. But he was still determined to complete the challenge and went back to L.A. six months later to do the whole ride again, this time cycling 147 miles a day to complete it in 24 days.
That experience well and truly anchored his love of endurance cycling, and he has now competed all over the world. But one of his best achievements in the sport - breaking the seven-day world record - was done on the streets around his home town of Rugby in 2017, which saw James cycle a staggering 1,766.2 miles, which equates to riding from London to Paris every day.
Before James’ illness, sport hadn’t been a big part of his life at all but he decided to live a completely different lifestyle when he recovered. "I eat better, sleep better and it makes me a better husband and father,” he says of his new passion. “I think sport is a key thing we should all have as part of our lives."
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