Nathan McDowell loves anything with wheels – dirt bikes, rally cars and go karts – but riding his modified bicycle gives him a sense of freedom like no other.
The 30-year-old was diagnosed with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD) more than 10 years ago and in March he plans to ride 120km from Noosa to Woody Point to raise awareness of the condition, and money to secure his future.
PMD is a condition that affects the central nervous system and is associated with abnormalities of the white matter of the brain and spinal cord. Mr McDowall said he was one of only a handful of people to live as long as he has.
He is also legally blind, has cerebral palsy, spina bifida, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Despite these significant health challenges, Mr McDowall’s outlook on life remains positive. Walking is becoming increasingly difficult, so Mr McDowall is making the best of what he has, buoyed by a dedicated support crew which includes father Gavin and his partner Robin, sister Danielle, carer Matt Bell and Holistic Horizons founder Drew Cason.
Mr Cason said Mr McDowell was his first client and the reason he started the Margate-based service, that offers support to clients with disabilities.
The pair regularly rode together, before a back injury forced Mr Cason to pass the baton to Mr McDowell’s current cycle buddy and carer Matt Bell.
They are already in serious training, clocking up 40 training rides already, hitting the gym and working on physiotherapy and brain training exercises.
The first leg of Nathan’s Big Ride is likely to be from Noosa to Caloundra on a cycle pathway and then Narangba to Woody Point. The portion of the journey in between, will need to be done by vehicle as there is no safe cycleway for Mr McDowell to use.
“I can’t ride a normal bike, but I can get up to 35km/h down a hill or 10km/h on the flat on my bike,” Mr McDowell explained.
It is a modified bike, with all the controls he needs at his fingertips.
“It’s free, it’s fast, it’s freedom,” he said.
“Wheels give me freedom.”
Mr Bell said Mr McDowell was a natural risk taker who loved to try new things.
His support crew will travel as closely as they can, when he is on the ride from March 8-13, with a trailer that has cooking facilities, and toilet.
They plan to stay at hotels/motels along the way and are hoping businesses and accommodation providers will support Mr McDowell’s journey.
They are also hoping the community gets behind him, donating water, food and other supplies for the trip, as well as prizes that can be raffled to raise money.