Grandmother, 85, reveals she cycled 1,000 miles across Scotland

‘I thought about taking my own life when I lost all three of my adult children’: Grandmother, 85, reveals how she cycled 1,000 miles across Scotland in memory of her daughter and sons

  • Mavis Paterson, 85, has raised over £60,000 for charity with fundraising efforts 
  • Read more:  I cycled 1,000 miles and celebrated with a big glass of wine

About four years ago, octogenarian Mavis Paterson was told by her orthopaedic surgeon that she definitely needed a hip replacement. ‘He pointed out, on the X-rays, where the cartilage had worn away, meaning my hip was just bone on bone,’ she recalls.

There was a problem, though. Mavis – a lifelong adventurer – had grand plans to do a charity cycle ride. An epic sort of cycle ride – from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

‘I told him “Well I can’t walk very well with my sore hip, but I can still cycle”. He said, “Absolutely not. I would not advise it”.’

She did it anyway, cycling the full length of Britain, all 960 miles of it, landing herself in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest woman to complete that ride.

What on earth did her surgeon say when he found out? She stifles a giggle.

Mavis Paterson has cycled the full length of Britain, all 960 miles of it, landing herself in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest woman to complete that ride

‘His secretary called me in, saying he would like to see me,’ she remembers. She thought she was going in for a telling off.

‘But he sat back and looked at me and said… “I think you are wonderful”.

‘I fell in love with him then – and he was only about 40!’

If she was wonderful then, how to describe Mavis now? Four years on, she has had not just one hip replaced, but two… and two full knee replacements.

‘They call me Bionic Granny Mave,’ she laughs. ‘I’m as good as new.’

This bionic granny – who celebrated her 85th birthday last week – has just completed another epic adventure, a month-long cycle ride around Scotland. She notched up 1,000 miles over the most challenging terrains and through all the weather her beloved homeland can offer.

There were blips, obviously. She tells me about a hairy ride along a canal, where she narrowly missed plunging in: ‘I said no more canals after that. I’m staying on the open road.’

And there was an even nearer miss at a big roundabout in Inverness. ‘I clipped the pedal off the kerb and came right off, in front of a car.

All her adventuring has been for charity. On her length-of-Britain ride, she made £75,000 for the Macmillan cancer charity. Her Scottish jaunt has raised £59,000 – and counting

‘Luckily, the man screeched to a halt. If it had been a moment earlier, I’d have been killed. But he got out and picked me off the ground.’

ON Sunday afternoon, though, she arrived back in the village of Auchenmalg, in Dumfries and Galloway, and prepared to put her feet up, for a minute.

All her adventuring has been for charity. On her length-of-Britain ride, she made £75,000 for the Macmillan cancer charity. Her Scottish jaunt has raised £59,000 – and counting.

Her travels have captured public attention on social media, with well-wishers turning out to wish Granny Mave (as she is known on Twitter) their support.

Her adventuring would be uplifting regardless, but there is a back-story here that catapults it into a different league of inspirational.

The reason Mavis continues to get on her bike? Because the alternative, she says, ‘was sitting at home, wondering if I even want to live’.

For Mavis has suffered unimaginable heartache. What propels her on is grief, and the desire to conquer it.

Over the space of four years, she lost all three of her children. Her daughter Katie was just 49 when she passed away. Her sons Sandy and Bob were 43 and 47 respectively.

They all died in different, unconnected, ways. Katie had viral pneumonia. Sandy suffered a fatal heart attack. Bob died in a road accident.

Yes, she was broken. Her way of coping was, she tells me, to quite simply get on her bike, to force herself out, into the countryside, and to commit to an adventure that, she says, ‘forced me to live’.

‘My bike saved me,’ she says. ‘If I hadn’t had it, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I think I might have… well, I better not say it, but I had lost everything. It was too much to take on board. There were days when I didn’t know if I wanted to live.’

This bionic granny – who celebrated her 85th birthday last week – has just completed another epic adventure, a month-long cycle ride around Scotland

What epic living she is doing. Loud, too. She says that cycling stops her thinking too much of her children. When she gets a little maudlin on her bike, she likes to hum. Sometimes she bursts into full song. Singing what?

‘Oh my favourite is Take Me Home, Country Roads. And I sing a lot of Dolly Parton. All out of tune, mind. I sing. I shout. At the cows. I don’t know what they think of me, as I go past.’

Clad in Lycra, Mavis looks every inch the wiry athlete (‘Did you think I was going to be a little old lady?’ she inquires). She says that on the day of her 85th birthday, she had an easy day of it, ‘only covering 31 miles’.

She celebrated with a sports massage – a birthday gift from friends – a slice of birthday cake a and a ‘nice glass of Merlot’, but she points out that this is a regular end-of-exhausting day tipple rather than a one-off birthday treat. ‘I couldn’t do without it.’

Not for her a typical athlete diet on this latest long-distance jaunt. ‘Oh I don’t bother with that,’ she says, when I ask how many calories she needs to consume, and whether we are talking a diet of chicken breasts and high protein shakes. ‘We stop at cafes along the way and I just eat whatever I want. I’ll often have a slice of cake.

‘And I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian by any means, although maybe I shouldn’t say that because the vegans will say “What is she talking about, silly old woman”.’

Some elite cyclists joined her en route this time, offering support.

DID they share tips about pacing, or about how to avoid blisters or chafing? Er, no. ‘My grandson William, who is a farmer, gave me some udder cream they use on the cows on the farm. I just slap it on. It stops me getting blisters on my bum.’

William was there to give her a huge bear hug when she finished her latest challenge.

‘He’s very proud of me, yes,’ she says. ‘Although he never knows what I’ll be doing next.’

Mavis was always an active soul, sporty as a child. She played netball and tennis, but running was her passion. She completed marathons, and it was only in her 50s – mindful of what ‘pounding the pavements’ was doing to her knees – that she took up cycling.

In some ways she was a traditional wife. Her husband John was a chartered accountant. When their three children arrived, she was a stay-at-home-mum.

‘I was just a mum, really. In our generation, you didn’t work once you had children so I stayed at home, cooked the mince on a Tuesday night, did the usual sort of boring things. But I loved my family.’

It sounds as if she was a fun mum, always happy to get the children outside, playing. ‘Oh always. At one stage we lived in a house with a tennis court and that was great. They were only small – they didn’t even reach the net – but we were out there, knocking balls about. We’d go camping too, everyone mucking in. I loved that.’

As her kids became teenagers, then young adults, she embarked on longer cycling trips.

Once she went on a bike ride across Canada. She has cycled across America, and taken herself off to Hawaii, Fiji and Melbourne in the name of adventure.

Her husband, who passed away after a stroke in 1996, didn’t always approve, but she talked him round.

‘John was more of a sailor and I do remember saying to him, “Look, if you wanted to go sailing round the world, I would not stop you”.’

Once, she apologised to Katie, she says, for not being the sort of mother who always had the house neat. ‘She said to me, “You are a great mum”. Never mind about the house.’

Twenty years ago, she started using her sporting challenges to raise money for charity. Her mother and grandmother had died from cancer and then her sister, Sandra, fell ill in Australia.

‘I went to see her towards the end and she had nurses, similar to the Macmillan nurses here, looking after her. I thought they were marvellous. When I came back I joined Macmillan Support, and started to raise money for them.’

It was in 2012 that tragedy struck the next generation with the sudden death of Sandy, her youngest son. ‘The police came to tell me. Two of them, at the door, saying he had been found on the street.’

She was devastated, but the family rallied, ‘especially Katie, who only lived a few miles away’.

THE following January, Katie convinced her to take the trip to Australia, to stay with her niece. Everyone thought it would do her good. ‘Katie was actually having a party for Hogmanay, and I gave her a hug when I was saying goodbye…’

She starts to cry now. ‘I was in Australia when my son-in-law phoned saying I had to come home, right away. She was in hospital with viral pneumonia.

‘Katie, who was never ill. She was a wonderful girl, always healthy, devoted to her horses, always active.

‘She died while I was on the plane trying to get home, although they kept the life support going until I got there.’

How does a mother go on? ‘I remember having a conversation with Katie about this. I said, “I don’t know how a mother keeps going after they have lost a child”. And now I have lost all of mine.’

She is too upset to even relate the circumstances of Bob’s death, but it came in 2016. There was a car accident.

Her life stopped, for a while. There were terrible weeks and months when she did not want to get out of bed. She does have grandchildren – three, all now in their 20s – and says they are her biggest blessing.

‘Katie’s son is William, who now looks after me. And Sandy had two girls, Lanna and Shanai. I love them all so much.’

She has good friends too but there was a point at which even seeing them was painful.

‘Friends talk about their children, you see. It’s the conversations you have. They’d always ask after Katie and Sandy and Bob, and I’d tell them what they were doing, and they’d tell me what their children were doing.’

People didn’t know how to help her. ‘They don’t know what to say. They do that thing of crossing the road, or seeing someone over your shoulder in the supermarket, I suppose because they are thinking “Gosh, poor Mave, who has lost all her children”. I wish they wouldn’t, because I can cope with it now.’

She could write the book on grief. ‘I wish it would just go away,’ she says, starkly. ‘But it doesn’t. It never leaves you. Manys a morning I would just lie there and think, “I can’t bear this”, because my children were the first thing I would think of. They still are.

‘I think about them when I wake. I see them in my dreams, and in my dreams they are always alive.’

At some point on this terrible trek through bereavement, though, Mavis decided she was not going to go under. ‘I live in the most beautiful part of the country but one day I thought, “Am I just going to sit here looking at the sea, thinking of my children for the rest of my life?”. It was then that I started to plan the next adventure.’

So she, quite literally, got on her bike. Since then, she has barely stopped. ‘It’s been great therapy. I don’t know where I would have been if I didn’t have my bike, and if I hadn’t always been physically active – which allowed me to get back on it. I think I might have taken a little pink pill.

‘To just get out, and appreciate the countryside, and be thankful for it, has been wonderful.’

Over and above her personal tragedy, she is quite the advert for active living. ‘I wish more people would do it,’ she says. ‘I meet people in their 60s who say “How do you manage it?” but I think “My goodness, you are only 64”.’

SHE adds: ‘Anybody can do this – if they are healthy, obviously. I do think you’ve only got one life on this planet, so make the most of it, get active and stay active.

‘Life is good, it is really. I know I’ve had a lot of sadness in my life, but I still I like living, so I’ve had to make life about challenges, about moving on.’

And on. And on. What comes next, Granny Mave? She’s already planning that one, which will involve getting the map (and the udder cream) out again. ‘I am bothered a bit with the arthritis now,’ she concedes. ‘But I don’t think it will stop me.’

May that nice orthopaedic surgeon be warned.

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