For some, cycling offers an accessible way of keeping fit. For Golden Bay man Brian Jacobsen, it’s a pursuit he is adamant has kept him alive.

The 73-year-old from Pohara, near Takaka has endured a brain aneurysm, stroke and numerous heart-related issues over the last 25 years.

He’s also taken his Masters Games gold medal tally to 14 when he competed in the South Island Masters Games in Timaru recently.

Competing in four events at the velodrome and the Levels Raceway, Jacobsen won four gold medals in the under 75 C4 paracyclist classification.

His status stemmed from partial paraylsis caused by a stroke following a brain aneurysm at work in 1995, aged just 48.

”That was a huge shock, totally unexpected,” Jacobsen said.

Three months in a wheelchair followed his operation before he could try walking again.

Within six months, he had discovered a new mode of transport to regain his fitness.

“While we were living near the beach my niece and nephew came up to me one day and said ‘take a look outside the window aunty’ – they’d got him on a bike somehow and sent him up the road”, said Jacobsen’s wife of 51 years, Christine.

Cycling was just the remedy for Brian, who had been a keen athlete in his younger days and one of the first people to break an hour running up the Takaka Hill.

“I just wanted to do some exercise, but eventually I thought I’d like to do some racing.”

A bike race up the Takaka Hill in 1997 was his first goal, which indicated he was a wee way off his top form but reignited his competitive spirit.

“He actually used to run up the hill faster than he biked it that first time,” Christine said.

Masters Games
Jacobsen says cycling keeps him alive despite having suffered a brain aneurysm, stroke and other health issues (JOHN BISSET/STUFF)

“I got last – but I was on my mountainbike – the following year I was on a road bike and I got the cup for the most improved –I rode 30 minutes faster,” Jacobsen said.

His health remained steady until 2011 when he suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

”That was pretty traumatic – they thought it related to the brain, so they put me in an ambulance and on the Takaka Hill all hell broke loose and it ruptured.

”The surgeon came out to speak with Christine and said it was a miracle I survived the operation, but it’ll be a miracle if I survived the next 12 hours.

“Christine said ‘you don’t know him, he’ll be right’.”

Sure enough, one of the first things Jacobsen asked once he could talk was whether he would be able to ride his bike again.

Three more bypasses have occurred since then – the most recent was just nine weeks ago.

Against her better judgement, his surgeon reluctantly allowed Jacobsen to compete in Timaru with a few conditions.

“I was told I wasn’t allowed to pass anyone … she also said ‘if something goes wrong, we’d have to take your leg off, but knowing you, you’d ride with a plastic one.”

Masters Games
This year’s South Island Masters Games medals double as bottle openers and fridge magnets (ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY/STUFF)

A total of 15 medals at five masters games – including two golds at the World Masters Games in Auckland – were proud accomplishments, he said.

However, his most memorable cycling moment came after a Grape Ride event at Marlborough’s Forrest Estate.

“They had a most inspirational rider award and they began by saying all these things about a guy who’d had a brain aneurysm and all these bypasses – I turned to Christine and said “I’d like to meet this guy.”

“I had to walk up this red carpet and onto a stage – [Estate owner] Dr Forrest was there and he said ‘this is like an Olympic medal’ – I had tears in my eyes by that stage – the first thing I had to do was ring all my kids and tell them.”

Jacobsen said his determination to ride has helped him face his health issues, and he encouraged others not to let illness stop them from giving it a go.


Article first published on 27 October 2020 in Stuff.

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