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Special trip for special woman

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013
catriona williams
SUPPLIED/ Kevin Moore

LUNCH BREAK: Catriona Williams, centre, takes time out with Twizel Area School students and local hand-cyclist Shelly Spry. Ms Williams, a tetraplegic, will be embarking on a 28-day trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu.

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Catriona Williams rode along a flat section of the Alps to Ocean cycle trail yesterday, but soon the tetraplegic will be scaling the heights of Kathmandu.

Ms Williams, 41, rode the 30km Lake Pukaki to Twizel section of the cycleway on her hand-cycle.

The Wairarapa woman was one of New Zealand's leading international equestrian riders, but became a tetraplegic after a riding accident in 2002.

Ms Williams, whose CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust has raised more than $2 million toward research since 2005, said it was the first time she had been in this part of the country.

"New Zealanders often travel the world, but we can go all our life missing out on some of the best parts of the country," Ms Williams said.

She will be riding through the country over the next month to prepare for a much longer journey. From June 11 to July 14, Ms Williams, along with a dozen others, will ride from Lhasa to Kathmandu, covering more than 1000km, and reaching heights of 5000m.

"We will be going through 10 mountain passes. It doesn't matter whether you are tall, short, thin, male or female, coping with altitude sickness will be tough," she said.

"Camping together for 28 days is also going to be interesting, while tents are not exactly made for wheelchairs. We're going to come back either very frustrated or very patient people."

Ms Williams' 1.5m hand cycle is custom-designed. "The bike is pedalled by my arms. I'm lucky that I've had engineers who designed foot pedals, which means as my arms go round, my legs have some movement. That's good for me, any tingles I get suggest a recovery is possible.

"When I first got the bike, it used to take me 90 minutes to go up and down our 800m driveway, but two years later [in 2010], I was able to complete the New York Marathon."

Ms Williams said the Lhasa to Kathmandu tour group had received support from the air force, including access to a hyperbaric chamber that replicated the pressures of high-altitude conditions.

She was confident about the challenges ahead. "Life is about doing things, and if you keep active, you will have a pretty special life."

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- The Timaru Herald

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