Musician Mike Penny is on the road to freedom having discovered life on three wheels with the support of Cycling 4 All, Shropshire - writes Simon Cousins.
“It’s like being born again,” says Mike Penny, as he cruises along Shrewsbury’s cycle paths on his new recumbent eTrike. Powered by a state of the art E5000 electric motor, it has brought him joy and a feeling of independence he never thought possible.
“Thankfully, we’re blessed with quite a few cycle paths in Shrewsbury,” says Mike’s wife Wendy. “Mike can enjoy the river, he can go to see his friends. He can take his grandson out. It means he can be free.”
Mike is an enthusiastic member of an inclusive cycling group Cycling 4 All, Shropshire (C4AS) affiliated to Cycling UK. It is run by dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers who campaign for inclusive and adaptive cycling on behalf of people who cannot ride a conventional bike.
Through initiatives such as ‘Pedal in the Park’ in the Quarry and supported rides in Shropshire’s beautiful countryside, people with difficulties, disabilities and long-term health conditions can take part in cycling in a safe and enjoyable way.
After meeting the group at the Shrewsbury Carnival four years ago, Mike braved the rear seat on a tandem, ridden by one of the group’s skilled riders: “I thought if I can stay on the back of this tandem - with lorries driving past – I can easily go down a less crowded road!” he laughed.
He was encouraged by Cycling 4 All, his medical consultant and his family and friends to acquire an eTrike, which is safe for him to ride and, since lockdown, has been enjoying riding solo.
“The group is very supportive in getting me going and freedom seems possible now,” says Mike Penny, of Cycling 4 All.
The trike is a great leap forwards after some major setbacks in family life. Mike’s wife Wendy suffered a life-changing injury after a fall at work and a year later, out of the blue, Mike suffered a heart attack.
Mike’s heart attack, and Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), have had long-lasting consequences. They have affected his balance, mobility and speech and, as a result, he had to give up work as a musician and music teacher – which came as a major blow to someone who had loved his work so much.
Penny Music Man
Mike’s love of music started as a child – he would play ‘When I’m cleaning windows’ on the ukulele on family holidays and borrowed his dad’s trumpet to improvise. He learned to play the clarinet too, listening to Benny Goodman. He met Wendy whilst studying Music at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Polytechnic and they moved up to Shrewsbury in 1989.
Mike worked as a peripatetic teacher with the Shropshire Music Service, teaching all kinds of instruments. He once taught a school choir a key part in a song released for Children in Need hosted by Terry Wogan. The recording was produced by Sir Paul McCartney!
Local musicians might remember Mike as a conductor of the Shrewsbury Area Training Wind Band (along with Dave Heywood) and the Shropshire Youth Saxophone ensemble. You might also have seen him on the carnival float with the Wakeman Jazz Band, at Theatre Severn, playing the saxophone dressed as a clown, or drifting up and down the River Severn on the Sabrina playing with the Tony Small Jazz Band.
Mike was known as the ‘Pennymusicman’. He had several songbooks published and you can still find his recordings of folk dance sets, songs for children and Shropshire folk tunes on soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/pennymusicman.
Very sadly, this all came to an end after his heart attack, which, together with FND, has impacted his ability to translate thoughts into speech and movement. This is extremely frustrating for Mike, though he still retains his infectious sense of humour and his positive outlook on life.
Mike is following his consultant’s advice and is using his talents to help repair the neural pathways in his brain. He volunteers with ‘Singing for the Brain’, supporting people with dementia.
The Cycling 4 All group has reignited an old passion, and the newfound exercise will also be invaluable in improving his mental and physical health.
The eTrike has unlocked new freedoms for Mike – now his goal is to get Wendy to join him on wheels. With their combined strength and determination, you cannot doubt that it will happen.
Cycling 4 All, Shropshire can be contacted via the group's website
The group has just heard that Shropshire Council, with full Shrewsbury Town Council support, is applying for funding to make Shrewsbury one of 12 'Mini Holland' towns and create transformational pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
This funding would provide safer and more pleasant conditions by the introduction of new infrastructure like segregated cycleways, the implementation of ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’, and more highways space given over to pedestrians and cyclists.
“It will help the very individuals we are trying to support, encouraging them to give cycling a try and keep active,” said Cycling 4 All member Jean Breakell.