On 20th June 2019 Mel Nicholls broke the world record for handcycling the length of Britain. Dream Big is the story of that journey , and I had the pleasure of seeing it at a special screening at Hartpury University this week.
Land’s End to John O’Groats is one of those iconic journeys here in Great Britain that inspires people to travel, motivating athletes and adventurers to test their personal endurance, their ability to keep up speed day after day, and their choice of transport, to the limit. I’ve done it myself, although that trip was much more of a road trip than a race; I took two wheels with an engine attached and chose to make the nearly-900 miles more like 2,000, winding my way from one end to the other.
In line with her motto – Dream Big – friend and fellow Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion Mel set herself a goal to complete the gruelling 874 miles of LEJOG in just nine days. She planned to cycle 100 miles and up to 2500 meters of climbing each day, with the aim of beating the Guinness World Record by at least two days. The female record stood at 11 days; the male was 10 days. I’ll not be giving too much away when I say that she absolutely smashed it!
From 2001 Mel had a series of strokes. A stroke in 2008 left her unable to walk and use much of the left side of her body. Doctors later discovered a hole in her heart in 2009 for which she underwent corrective surgery, most recently in 2018. For the last ten years Mel has devoted herself to race and endurance training, representing Team GB in wheelchair racing at two Olympic Games and racing in several Marathons. Most recently she’s been attracted to seemingly impossible challenges, aiming to promote disability as a strength rather than a disadvantage. Mel is a strong believer in overcoming any obstacle – in the early days of her recovery that was making a cup of tea for herself, ten years later, with huge amounts of hard work and determination, it’s handcycling Great Britain faster than anyone else.
Dream Big, a documentary film by Friction Collective, brings that LEJOG journey to life for those of us who couldn’t join Mel on the journey itself. It is a portrait of an athlete who has defied physical limitations and societies expectations. And while it does focus on the adrenaline of racing, it also emphasises the raw and human moments in between – the highs and lows of Mel’s journey up the country.
I enjoyed it all the more because it featured Katie and Matt, two other GetOutside Champions I’m rather fond of, as part of Mel’s support crew. It was clear that the whole team were absolutely vital to the success of the challenge, even if there was a slight navigational error…
The documentary is uplifting in a lot of ways, it made me smile and laugh. It also made me want to give Mel a big hug at times, seeing how hard she pushed herself and what that did to her. And yes, the story is inspirational, completely and utterly so; but it didn’t inspire me because Mel has a disability, it inspired me because Mel has the dream, desire and strength in her mind and body to do such amazing things, and we all need a little bit of that in our lives.
I don’t see myself in the same league as Mel, she’s an incredible athlete who performs feats of human endeavour. But I have to admit, it really made me want to go and have an adventure with her!
Mel has taken the film on tour and you can see her and it at various locations over the next week or so. Mel posts all the details on her facebook page.