We recently came across this amazing story regarding Silverback ambassador, Glenn Johnstone. Glenn lost his leg 23 years ago due to a giant cell tumor, he spent 10 years dealing with infections and going for surgeries to the point where he is now actually working as a rehabilitation assistant in a Hyper Acute stroke unit.
Glenn currently rides one of the Silverback bikes with a prosthetic leg. Silverback recently interviewed Glenn on his passion for cycling and his journey to get to where he is today.
How old were you when you started cycling?
Oh roughly about 4 years old I asked my dad he said I started off on a 3 wheeler.
Where does your passion for cycling come from?
I have always been into mechanical things, Lego, Mechano, toy cars etc. I played for hours locally on various incantations of bicycles, then got my first BMX. A group of friends and I even petitioned our local council way back when we were 13 or 14 and we had a BMX track built on some wasteland. Prior to this, we used a disused area were the old Gas Works used to be.
How did you find out you had a Giant Cell Tumor in your right leg?
Whilst doing my deliveries as a Postman I developed a limp. I did not give it much thought until an elderly lady pointed out I had been struggling all week.
I believe you were once a car owner and had to give that up, now that you bought yourself a new car. Congratulations. How does it feel to be mobile and independent again?
Independence for anyone is really important I know that from first-hand experience and also from working with patients within my job. I went approximately 7 years without a car. In this time I used to borrow my dads when I needed it, as it was an automatic. At other times I was quite happy just cycling where ever I needed to go. When I returned to work a car became more of a necessity so I got myself a little Smart car. I have just had my birthday of course so treated myself to a VW Beetle.
Brian Bartlett, how has he helped your journey? How did he find you? How many other people is he currently sponsoring via your Facebook Community?
Brian has been an amazing source of support in my journey. If it were not for Brian’s design, the Bartlett Tendon I can honestly say riding a bike would have lost its appeal. You see the BTK is designed to replicate the bio-mechanics of a human limb. It has artificial tendons, plus a Rock Shox Monarch RT3 shock absorber. These combined in the design allow a rider to stand out of the saddle and pedal foot over foot and take in various terrains. With the first hydraulic knee, I received a daily ride out was just sitting in the saddle and it soon got boring. Brian is not currently sponsoring anyone as far as I am aware.
I found Brian on Youtube. It’s a long story, basically, I contacted him and got no response at first. I then did some research and discovered a friend of Brian’s named Jason Lalla was using one of the pre-production Bartlett Tendons. I contacted Jason who happens to be a prosthetist and also a Paralympic Gold medal skier. Brian’s background was as a professional skier before he lost his limb. Jason invited me to phone him in the USA, which I did. We had a lengthy conversation and he informed me Brian had not been well and required a revision on his leg. A few weeks later Brian contacted me and that is where it all began.
These kinds of surgeries are very expensive – how did you attract sponsors what was the process?
In reality, the way I gained sponsorship was through my, what some have described as irrepressible attitude. I thought there was no harm in writing to various companies and stating “hey this is what I can offer you”. Creating disability awareness and wanting to inspire and motivate others is very rewarding and it can be a great tool when used for promotion of an individual or company. I also used to run a Facebook Group for fellow amputees, back in the day.
It had a tremendous following. It was through this group a South African prosthetist called Johan Snyders contacted me. He was interested in how I had re-learnt to ride a bike in a short space of time. Johan put me in touch with a private clinic here in the UK. Pace Rehabilitation and I began working with one of their prosthetists Jamie Gillespie. Pace took me under their wing and research and development was started on a comfortable riding socket.
What was your experience with PACE rehabilitation center?
Pace Rehabilitation has been absolutely fantastic. They have supported me from very early on in my riding and continue to support me. In fact just recently my prosthetist Paul Richardson helped get me on trials for an everyday micro processed knee and fitted me for a comfortable socket. This has helped more than I can put into words. I am now more confident and the impact the Ossur Rheo XC knee has made in both day to day activities and with work is fantastic. Pace continue of course to support me on my BTK Crossover and in return, I promote all their hard work via social media and through my blog.
10 years of being in the house – How would you keep yourself entertained? How would you spend your average day?
Those days were very dark indeed. It’s hard to explain as it felt as if there was no day or days as such, just a long endless period of pain. Lots of visits to hospital as my leg kept getting infected. At home, constant care carried out by community nurses, who were awesome. I was also on lots of medication. I can honestly say I was in limbo and could see no way out.
How many bicycles have you had since you got a prosthetic leg?
I have had 10 bikes since I got my prosthetic leg. Of those 10 I still have 8.
How many prosthetic legs have Brian sent you?
I began trials on the first BTK way back in 2009. This knee I funded myself and got a good deal from Pace, who went on to design a special riding socket. Brian then started to sponsor me and as I recall I received 2 knees from Brian. One of which he replaced when I went out to meet him in Seattle whilst on holiday (2013) You see I had used the knee on the beach on a Fat Bike and well the knee wore quite quick as a result. As it is really expensive for Brian to get his designs to completion he went in with a company named Fabtech.
Brian wanted to do more designing and did not have time to become a salesman. Pace became involved somewhat with Fabtech and I was very lucky to get one of the latest incarnations of the new BTK called the Crossover, this was in conjunction with Pace and Fabtech. It is a newer version of the first production Bartlett Tendon. Plans are in the pipeline to receive an even newer addition to the Crossover and this will eliminate requiring tendon receivers placed on to the socket.
How often should one change their prosthetic leg? Why?
Prosthetic limbs need to be well maintained and serviced, this is for safety reasons and general wear and tear. Depending on the manufacturer they have different warranties and guidance as to what you should or should not be doing with your limb.
Since your voluntary job at the hospital, what other jobs have you had to date?
Following the voluntary job at the hospital, I went on to become a Physiotherapist assistant. I also worked for a number of months as a Health Trainer, before getting my current job as a Rehabilitation Assistant
How often do you aim to cycle a week?
I am just getting back to cycling after a lay off following treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I normally used to ride 3 to 4 times per week.
What is the longest ride you have done?
Oh that would probably have been sometime ago when some friends and I went bike packing along the North East coast, we traveled approx 85 miles over 2 days.
You love mountain biking, what kind of weather do you prefer?
Rain or shine and sometimes even a bit of snow. It’s not so much the weather it’s just about having fun.
Does the weather affect your prosthetic leg while cycling?
Good question. The BTK is known as a “dirty design” so you can pretty much take it out in any conditions. The weather can affect my residual limb, phantom pain sucks.
Name any bike tricks that you can do?
Well not saying I can do them but do attempt them, things like wheelies, stoppies, bunny hops and pretty much jumping or dropping off stuff…Ooh, and blasting down steps is always fun.
Name 3 goals that you have planned for yourself when you had this major life-changing moment and achieved it?
Re-learning how to ride, getting back to work, taking my first holiday overseas.
If you did not get notice by Brian Bartlett, what would have been the next step or plan of action?
Wow I dread to think. I cannot imagine being without my Bartlett Tendon. I can ride with other prosthetics, however, they just do not perform or allow me to ride the way I want to.
Twenty-three years ago, looking at your journey and experience, what is the one thing you have not achieved yet and still aiming to do?
In all fairness, I think I have probably achieved more since loosing my leg. It has kind of driven me on, a sort of personal challenge. Of course, opportunity always presents itself so I am sure the odd challenge or achievement will be on the horizon.
One area I do feel I have failed in is learning to run. It proved very difficult and although I could run and got the technique fairly quickly, socket issues were what stopped me.
What other sports interest you?
Oh I enjoy watching the motorcycling, in fact, I have just purchased a small motorcycle. It is probably 23 years since I last rode, hey I guess that is an achievement. I also enjoy watching the odd game of football.
How do you stay motivated and positive?
I am just like everyone I have good days and bad days. Sometimes we all need to take stock and just reflect on our situation. The last 3 years has been a very hard road, not only contending with having to put a leg on every day, but also dealing with Non-Hodgkin’s and the after-effects of treatment. Taking time for yourself and doing things that make you happy is important.
What advice do you have for other people around the world that are in the same situation?
Learn not to be too hard on yourself. We quite often forget that when something happens whether it be a life-changing illness or disability that we have to adapt. This does not mean completely giving something up, but rather find another way to do it or at a different pace. I quite often tell my patients instead of taking one giant leap, trying to achieve something, then becoming critical of yourself if you fail. Try taking smaller positive steps and complimenting yourself on your successes.
What do you love the most about your Silverback Bicycle?
Well for starters I love the colour. Then there is the frame, it’s a beautiful bike to ride, so comfortable and goes where I point it down the trail.
Have you had any problems with your Silverback bike?
None my Silverback Synergy Fat has been awesome. I added a few trick bits like a dropper seatpost, makes it easier to get on and off the bike. And I up-rated the brakes with some nice shiny Hope’s
Does your prosthesis leg ever get in the way while pedaling? Do you have to make any adjustments?
My BTK doesn’t normally get in the way. It can be sometimes difficult turning right, as I have to make sure I don’t snag the knee on my bars and that I am in control and have my balance. Due to being clipped in if I fall off on the right, well I am just going to fall as I cannot un-clip or put my foot down.
How does riding your bike make you feel?
It’s a release, a way to get away. Once off any roads to get to local trails, there is nothing better than putting a few tunes on through my headphones and just being in my own world.
What is your ultimate goal?
Oh I have huge plans when I win the lottery, but hey that’s another story.
Have you entered any MTB races?
I have not entered any MTB races, however I have taken part in a few triathlons. I am a sporting ambassador for a Foundation named Arctic ONE.