Glasgow woman with epilepsy breaks cycling records

Published: July 06 2017
Last updated: September 28 2022

Ultra-marathon cyclist Katie Ford has broken 2 cycling world records, pending verification, and 2 British records to raise awareness of epilepsy.

On 2 July, Katie, 31, took to the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow’s Emirates Arena to try to break the 6, 8 and 12-hour indoor track cycling world records. Katie broke two world records for 6 and 8-hour track cycling, pending verification.

She also broke the British record for fastest 100-mile distance on an indoor track and the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association 12-hour indoor track record. She cycled just over 190 miles in 12 hours – almost the distance from Glasgow to Blackpool.

Effects of epilepsy

Katie has had epilepsy since the age of 4, after having febrile convulsions. She was diagnosed with the condition at age 9. She has right temporal lobe epilepsy and would get up to 12 auras a day, as well as absence seizures.

“I had a few tonic-clonics, but it was mostly seizures where I wasn’t aware of what I was doing,” Katie said. “I would talk gibberish or look agitated, and I wasn’t aware of what was going on.”

In 2001, Katie had brain surgery to try to control her epilepsy. “I was 14 going on 15. Looking back on it, I was almost excited about surgery. What I didn’t know at the time was the statistics around being eligible for surgery, which was about 5% at the time. I just feel incredibly lucky because of that.

“I was 5 years’ seizure free after the surgery, but after 5 years I had a breakthrough seizure. The medicine I take now controls the epilepsy almost entirely – I have an average of 1 seizure a year.

“When I had my breakthrough seizure I had to leave my job as a police constable. It was difficult because I had a really secure career for the rest of my life with the police. In a funny way, the best thing that could have happened was for me to leave the police completely rather than being offered an office job. I would have been seeing people doing the job that I had signed up for.

“About 15 months after the breakthrough seizure, I had a second seizure. I’d been driving for 3 months again and, thank goodness, I wasn’t at the wheel at the time. It was at that point that I chose to stop driving and to never drive again. I’ve had lots of time in the last 12 years when I could have had my licence back, but I wanted to make sure I was never responsible for anyone else being hurt. And because of that, I developed this incredible bond with my bike, because it’s my independence and my freedom.”

A lasting legacy

In 2008 Katie completed the 3,000-mile Race Across America, becoming the youngest British female to do this and the first Scot.

Talking about her recent 12-hour ride, Katie said: “I’m just really pleased. I was really pushing my limits in terms of pain and physical ability and what I wanted to get out of it was to show what people with epilepsy can do. The biggest sense I’ve got coming out of it is pride, not just for the ride itself but more for the fundraising and the awareness. It’ll hopefully have more of a lasting legacy than a couple of certificates.

“One of the difficulties with the cycling was that there was no one in the UK to actually speak to about the ride and how to prepare for it. I was the first Brit to ever attempt it, male or female.”

As well as boosting awareness of epilepsy, Katie has raised just shy of £16,000 to be shared between Epilepsy Action and Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity. She is also planning to auction off her bike from the race for the charities.

“The two charities are very close to my heart – or rather my head,” Katie said. “The work that Epilepsy Action has done to bring people with epilepsy together has been outstanding. The thing that is almost underestimated is the impact of bringing together two people who have the same type of seizure and having someone that really understands. Because trying to explain my auras is like trying to explain music to someone who’s never heard it before.

“The Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity was responsible for funding play equipment on the ward where I was treated from the age of 9-14. They also funded the video telemetry equipment which was the last test before I was deemed eligible for brain surgery. So that’s why I am fundraising for them.”