Long-distance cyclist has great motivation
'Everyone has gifts and abilities. It's about how we choose to use them'
Cycling helps Damian Day have a normal life. Louise Risk reports.
Damian Day lives to ride, but he also rides to live.
The former Hamilton man's selection as a finalist in the 2012 Attitude Awards, which celebrate and showcase people making the most of life - and the people who support them, highlights just how impressive Mr Day's riding really is.
At the age of nine he was diagnosed with dyspraxia, a neurologically based disorder whereby the execution of an idea or purpose (either new or learned) may sometimes inexplicably fail.
The condition, also known as developmental co-ordination disorder or clumsy child syndrome, varies from person to person, and may affect any or all areas of development - physical, intellectual, emotional, social, language, and sensory.
"It's like you think you can do something until you go to do it and realise that you can't because you kind of misplaced the information," Mr Day said.
"You may have to relearn it, or may be able to find it later."
As a child, dyspraxia affected both Mr Day's speech and movements, and he found it hard to co-ordinate his legs.
Learning to ride a bike was an effort but he didn't give up until he mastered the skill.
"I had to ride a bike to school, which was a couple of kilometres both ways," he said.
"I used to ride 50 metres and fall off, then I would get back on again.
"I was stubborn."
The risk of Mr Day's condition deteriorating to the point where he could no longer walk was just the motivation he needed to stay on his bike.
"Basically, if I don't keep up with the physical therapy [riding his bike] my condition gets worse rather fast," Mr Day said.
"I may end up in a wheelchair which isn't ideal. It's a ‘Use it or lose it' kind of skill and being able to walk is somewhat handy."
And use it he does. Mr Day estimated that in the past five years he had routinely ridden between 40km and 80km per day, sometimes more.
Last week he rode his bike 150 kilometres from Taupo to Hamilton to volunteer at the Mystery Creek Equidays - a premier equine event.
"It took me a day," he said.
Now based in Tauranga, Mr Day was born and raised in Hamilton, although his dyspraxia combined with his dyslexia, autism, and head injuries from various accidents including twice being hit by vehicles, "and a bit of wear and tear" means he does not remember a lot from that time.
He went to Nawton Primary School, Melville Intermediate and Fraser High School, and still stops in to visit old friends whenever his cycling brings him to the city.
Mr Day has a United States-made custom-designed bike with a trailer carrying supplies such as a tent, laptop, clothes, food, "basically everything" - meaning he can camp out "all year round", either in camping grounds or at friends' houses.
His self-deprecating wit meant Mr Day was quick to downplay his riding, saying it was possibly "crazy" rather than impressive, and he also said his friends thought he had an "unfair advantage" to begin with.
"Due to how my condition works, I don't get sore legs, because I don't feel the nerves - like they don't really exist," he said.
But the riding was still mentally fatiguing, and so the lack of feeling in his legs in no way detracted from the next challenge he had set for himself in a couple of weeks' time.
"I'm going to do eight laps around Lake Taupo."
Last year Mr Day decided to complete two laps around the lake, but after finding that too easy he doubled his plan and did four laps.
If successful in his attempt to double the distance again this year, he will bike 1280km.
As well as cycling, Mr Day enjoys horse riding and is a regular volunteer at equestrian events around the country, such as the Equidays.
He also enjoys photography, although currently he was without equipment to do this.
Mr Day's last camera wore out after he took "76,000 pictures" with it, and he has yet to find the money to replace it.
"I'm a semi-professional photographer," he said.
Cycling has given Mr Day plenty of scenic fodder to work with, his cycling having taken him to most parts of New Zealand.
But he laughed as he avoided naming his favourite destinations.
"Now that would get me into trouble," he said.
"I have friends all over the North Island and the South Island."
Mr Day was one of three finalists in the Courage in Sport category of the 2012 Attitude Awards, which had grown out of the television series Attitude.
The show's associate producer and host, Tanya Black, said each year they saw people pushing themselves to achieve.
"These awards are about changing perceptions," she said.
"Everyone has gifts and abilities. It's about how we choose to use them."
Ralph Stewart, the chief executive of ACC, a major sponsor of the awards, said the finalists in the Attitude Awards had pursued life with a positive attitude, strength and determination.
"They demonstrate that with ambition and the right support, it's possible for anyone to achieve their goals, regardless of the obstacles they face along the way."
The Attitude Award winners will be announced at the Viaduct Event Centre in Auckland on November 29.