Stroke of genius: Tony swaps swimming for cycling during lockdown

Father and son riding tandem in residential street
Tony and dad Michael on their tandem
With pools closed due to the coronavirus crisis, keen swimmer Tony Prior needed to find another way to keep fit. A borrowed tandem from the Edinburgh ABC led his parents to find a creative way for Tony to get his very own bike.

Tony Prior is 22 and has Down’s Syndrome. He is an accomplished swimmer, training several times a week near his home in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. 

He has won numerous medals at inclusive swimming events, including gold at the 2019 National Disability Swimming Championship for the 50m breaststroke.   

When all swimming pools closed due to the coronavirus crisis, Tony’s main hobby and form of exercise was suddenly unavailable to him. His mother Eileen helped him consider alternative forms of exercise.  

“Lockdown was a challenge for Tony as he is active and independent. He was really fed up when the pools closed, but he isn’t keen on walking, so we came up with the notion of a tandem. He has always enjoyed using adaptive bikes and trikes as he never quite mastered upright riding.” 

The Edinburgh All-ability Bike Centre, run by Cycling UK with funding from The RS MacDonald Charitable Trust, was happy to loan the family a tandem. While it has been unable to operate under the social distancing restrictions, the ABC has offered its fleet of adaptive bikes and trikes for loan. 

The tandem was an instant hit with Tony. After the first ride with his father Michael he said: “I really liked it. I like it when we go fast.” 

Tony’s delight to be cycling was obvious to everyone, according to Eileen: “He was chuffed to bits, grinning from ear to ear.” 

With Eileen borrowing a bike too, the tandem enabled the family to cycle together for the first time since Tony was a child. They rode a few times a week on cycle paths and quiet rural roads near home, enjoying the fresh air and the opportunity to exercise together. 

He was chuffed to bits, grinning from ear to ear.

Eileen, Tony's mum

Eileen said: “It’s been good for all of us as we can all get fit – my husband isn’t as fit as he could be but he’s getting fitter!”. 

To make sure that he could continue to reap the health and wellbeing benefits of cycling, the family decided to buy a tandem for Tony that he could ride with his dad and sometimes his support worker. 

Tony’s personal budget is allocated by the local council and used to pay for care and support services which meet the needs identified in his support plan. Usually there are strict rules on what the fund can be spent on, but Eileen noticed that Scottish Government and CoSLA guidance published in May allowed for more flexibility during the lockdown period, as many people were unable to use their funding as normal.  

She said: “Folk in my network were using their funding for a range of things like outdoor play equipment or fitness equipment. When I approached the council with the tandem idea the first response I got was a flat ‘no, we don’t do this, we don’t know about this’”. 

However, Eileen persevered, determined that a tandem was the best way for Tony to get the exercise that he enjoys and which is so beneficial to people with Down’s Syndrome who often have associated health issues.  

“After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with the council they agreed that we could use some of his fund to buy a second hand tandem. We found an elderly refurbished bike within our budget which was great.” 

Since then, Tony has used his new tandem to explore more of his local area, including the Tweed Valley Railway Path, a popular route for families.

He said: “I like going on the cycle paths best. Mum comes too on her bike. Last weekend we cycled to Innerleithen and back for the first time.”