Nic Brockelbank is racing the clock for a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

This profile is the latest in Stuff's weekly series, Face.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

This profile is the latest in Stuff's weekly series, Face.

Nic Brockelbank's wheelchair is in the loft gathering dust.

The Cambridge teenager, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, used the chair for eight years, to help relieve the fatigue that's a hallmark of the rare genetic condition. 

Nic, 15, was diagnosed when he was almost 3. People with muscular dystrophy lack the enzyme needed to repair their muscles. Nic began using a wheelchair when he started primary school. 

Historically, the life expectancy for boys with Duchenne has hovered in the mid-teens. Today, advances in drug  and physio therapies have brought them extra time.

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Nic cannot run, but he can definitely race. He signed on to compete in the Rev Cycle Race two years ago, his fitness increased to the point he could cycle 40 kilometres. 

Nic found he relied on his other set of wheels less and less. 

"After a while I just stopped using it," he says. "All the doctors were blown away."

Nic Brockelbank is a keen cyclist who lives with muscular dystrophy. He's taking on the clock to raise money for the ...
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Nic Brockelbank is a keen cyclist who lives with muscular dystrophy. He's taking on the clock to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association on March 23.

Today, Nic is a free agent. The Year 11 student at Cambridge High School works casual shifts at a local cafe. He can join in PE and activities with friends. He doesn't have to watch from the sidelines. 

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Things others take for granted, Nic explains, are harder for people like him. 

On the day we spoke, he'd walked home from school.

"I didn't used to be able to do that." 

Nic has never met anyone else with muscular dystrophy (the Duchenne type affects about 104 New Zealand males). But that hasn't deterred him from fundraising for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. 

When he was 10 years old, Nic became a published author – Nic's Cookbook is in its third reprint, and can be found alongside the sequel, Nic's Lunchbox, in selected book shops. He donates half the proceeds to the association.

Nic explains cooking – and art – were among the few hobbies he could enjoy as a wheelchair user. 

He's still making birthday cakes for family members. And he has a knack for rolling sushi.

On Thursday, Nic will undertake his most ambitious fundraiser yet: he's aiming to complete as many laps as possible of the Cambridge Velodrome in an hour.

He began training last October, after school at the velodrome and at home on a wind trainer. Nic's personal best is 77 laps of the 250-metre track in  40 minutes. He's aiming for 100. 

Coach Mike Bland has been overseeing Nic's training. He's advised Nic to count his pedal strokes, to distract him from pain or fatigue. 

Nic makes it sound simple. "I'm just focusing on the bike."

Support Nic's ride on his fundraising page

This profile is the latest in Stuff's weekly series, Face.

 - Sunday Magazine

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