Toby Oakes from Exeter, now in his 20s, and has been passionate about bikes for as long as he can remember; riding, touring, building, servicing and maintaining them. He is a fully qualified bike mechanic and last summer, secured a job as a cycle tour guide for a holiday company.

Despite his enthusiasm, however, his career wasn’t always a sure thing.

Toby was living on a farm in Uplowman, aged 11, when he had a very nasty accident. Running in from the garden to the house, Toby fell with both hands smashing through the plate glass window of the front door. “The old glass was thin and shattered like a cartoon picture,” explained Toby. “There were loads of jagged spikes that had lacerated both my wrists and arms.”

His mum, Rosey, ran to help, calling for Toby’s 9-year old sister, Daisy, to ring the emergency services. As Rosey grabbed tea towels to stem the flow of blood a land ambulance crew arrived and explained that the Air Ambulance was on its way. One distinct memory that sticks in Toby’s mind is the paramedic writing ‘aged 11’ on his gloved hand – “I’ll never forget how old I was, will I!”

Devon’s Air Ambulance aircrew administered further pain relief to Toby – he recalls that it worked so well that they were all joking about him being Superman as Toby was flown with his mum to RD&E Hospital. Toby underwent surgery to stitch the wounds that ran from his wrists to his armpits and also included muscle and tendon damage.

Toby was off school for the following six weeks with one arm bandaged bent and the other out straight. This lead to an interesting physiotherapy regime when the bandages came off as Toby remembers being unable to bend the straightened arm and, likewise, unable to straighten the bent one! He was extremely anxious about the risk of nerve damage to his fingers and he couldn’t wait to get back on his bike.  To start with getting back on a bike was completely out of the question but Toby was determined to ride as soon as possible and built it in to his physio routine, with a huge sense of relief that his fingers were unharmed in his accident.

Such was his passion for bikes that as soon as he was old enough Toby became a volunteer at Ride On, Cycling For All – an Exeter-based charity. With their encouragement Toby learned more about stripping bikes down and salvaging all the useful bits. This led to an apprenticeship which, in turn, led to a qualification as a bike mechanic.

Toby said, “It’s scary to think that I might not have been able to follow my dream. I’m convinced that the speed of the Air Ambulance getting me to hospital and the surgery that I then had, made a real difference to my recovery. I’ll always be grateful to them.”

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