Simon Richardson: An Undaunted Unbroken Spirit of Zwift

Simon Richardson: An Undaunted Unbroken Spirit of Zwift

Lists are pervasive in today’s society, and as data-hungry cyclists we especially tend to maintain many lists.  We take note of the route badges we’ve earned, the miles we’ve ridden, the Ride Ons we’ve received, and even the pizza slices we’re entitled to eat. 

It may be refreshing take a step back from those lists, however, to contemplate Henry David Thoreau’s perspective when he wrote, “A man’s interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town.”

The Laundry List

To say that Simon Richardson has a laundry list of medical problems would be an understatement.  It reads as follows:  

  • In early 2001 he was struck by a vehicle while training, suffering a broken leg that required surgery and hardware to repair.
  • Later in 2001, progressively worsening back pain proved to be the result of a fractured spine left undetected which required surgical intervention in November of that year.
  • In 2003 persistent and progressively worsening spinal symptoms required another spinal surgery.
  • In 2005 complications of the previous spinal surgeries manifested as progressively worsening and profound left-sided muscle weakness.

Describing Simon’s medical challenges through a mundane list is in no way meant to trivialize, but rather to deemphasize.  Simon is not defined by the bad that has happened to him.  In fact, there are some lists on which he is included that do just the opposite.

Despite the injuries, surgeries, and complications, the Welsh-born Simon resumed cycling in 2005 upon the recommendation of his doctors to aid in his rehabilitation. In 2006 a friend took Simon to a velodrome and introduced him to the track. Richardson, who was a cyclist prior to the accident, started training again on an adapted bike powered by only his right leg.

It was on the track that Simon’s talent was noticed and his eye-opening results earned him a spot on the Welsh national team, placing 7th in the Para-Cycling Europa Cup in 2007, amongst many other noteworthy results.  His impressive performances earned him an invitation as a guest rider on the British Paralympic team for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.

The List of Simon’s Olympic Achievements

In acknowledgement of his exceptional performance Simon was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) on December 31, 2008, and for recognition as an ambassador for his service to Disabled Sport the 2009 New Year Honours

Simon’s career was on the rise, until one fateful day in August of 2011 while training for the London 2012 Olympics.

A Few Additions to the Laundry List 

Simon was struck by a drunk driver and left for dead on the side of the road. He was 44 years old, and his laundry list of problems had grown significantly, as Simon’s condition was considered critical while he remained in a coma for 15 days.

  • Multiple spinal fractures
  • Fractured pelvis
  • Fractured sternum (breastbone) 
  • Detached lung resulting in only one fully functioning lung

Undaunted and with spirit unbroken, Simon, no stranger to comebacks, resumed training following a prolonged grueling course of rehabilitation and recovery, including countless surgeries and setbacks.  He got back to training in 2017 and described it as going well until “I had a bad turn and ended up in the hospital on oxygen.”  Simon had developed a blood disorder and required stomach surgery to save his life.  In 2019 he added two more spinal surgeries to the list following the collapse of the rods in his back. 

Simon’s Zwift setup

Zwift as a Comeback Essential

Following yet another rehabilitative episode, and another attempt to once again pick himself up and back onto the saddle, Simon found Zwift.  “I stumbled upon Zwift after receiving a trial,” reports Simon, who dreams of one day again competing in International Paralympic events.  

“When I started I was struggling to hit 1w/kg and now I am over 3w/kg,” Simon states excitedly.  Although he does not require a special bike to Zwift, he does note, “It takes me a long time to warm up and get my legs going.” 

Simon’s List of Zwift Accomplishments 

Once his legs got going they didn’t stop.  Simon completed the Virtual Race Across Europe by riding 4,700km in 52 days. He is currently competing in the Virtual Race Across the World: London to Sydney, a 16,983km competition that will require him to average over 325km per week to complete.  Simon has been talking to British Cycling concerning his most recent comeback, and with hope states, “They are interested in me again even being a bit old and said age doesn’t matter as long as you are fast.”

It would be foolish to bet against Simon, who further states, “Without Zwift I would not want to start cycling and racing again as I am still very nervous to get on a bike on the road. I wish Zwift had been around when I was training for Beijing!”  

It is not fair to characterize Simon by placing him on the list of injured athletes who never met their potential, or by describing the man by first reciting his long list of challenges and setbacks.  Simon would prefer, and is more appropriately characterized, by his own unique list. 

 It goes as follows:

  • Father and husband
  • Olympic Medal Winner
  • World Record Holder
  • MBE
  • Role Model
  • Undaunted and unbroken Spirit
  • Fellow Zwifter
  • A single bluebird!

The Short List

So how would you categorize Simon Richardson?  The man who has averaged one surgery per year since 2001.  Who lives a life on wheels, but not the glamorous life that us amateur cyclists dream of.  Who has spent as much time during his career recovering, rehabilitating, and coming back from injury as competing at the International level.  

And who, despite all this, has achieved the greatest awards and highest honors our sport and society offers. Whose spirit remains undaunted and unbroken! 

That list is still incomplete.  Ride On Simon!

Tell Us

Don’t pretend that you haven’t created a cycling-related list.  Are you a list writer?  What is the most unique and helpful list you rely upon.  Share if you feel it would benefit a fellow Zwifter!

About The Author

Christopher Schwenker

Chris is a semi-retired physical therapist who, following more than 25 years in solo private practice, considers himself blessed to combine a passion for cycling and creative writing in pursuit of his next life goal. He lives on the North Fork of Long Island with his beautiful wife and two university student children.

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Simon Richardson
Simon Richardson
2 months ago

I just want to say a big thanks to Chris for writing the article and zwiftinsider for publishing it. I am on zwift most days and if you want to say hi it would be great and if you want to be friends that is also not a problem. I am starting to run Sunday rides we are only 8 riders at the moment but anyone is welcome to join us as long as you stick to easy ride

Nigel Moore
Nigel Moore
2 months ago

Hi Simon,

I was absolutely engrossed in the article Chris had written about you and in awe of what you’re achieving. I’m a Trustee for WheelPower (British Wheelchair Sport) and currently looking to work with Zwift on support for a major challenge we’re planning to hold later this year with our Spinal Injury Unit partners across the country. Would you be interested in learning more and if so so would be best to contact you? Regards, Nigel

Simon Richardson
Simon Richardson
2 months ago
Reply to  Nigel Moore

Drop me an email [email protected]

Anthony Allen
Anthony Allen
2 months ago

It would be an honor!

Matt Key
Matt Key
2 months ago

As one of the Sunday riders who join Simon most weeks I can confirm it’s a lovely bunch, and he really does seem like a top chap.
Simon – I would think it would be perfectly fine to add your fundraising links either in the comments or even to the page 🙂

Jez
Jez
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt Key

Yeah, terrible luck, if you need any fundraising assistance I and the cycling community can surely help. Peace

Anthony Allen
Anthony Allen
2 months ago

This is an amazing story! Like many, I have had my own sets of challenges, but nothing close to what Simon has endured. I am truly inspired and admire the courage and perseverance that Simon possess!

Jim Newton
Jim Newton
2 months ago

This guy is a legend and an inspiration. I started riding in May 2020 (mostly on Zwift) and in November came across Simon and his Race Across Europe. I joined him on a few days and found his endurance encouraged me to go the extra mile (or kilometre!). I have since been up Ven top and ridden over 100k due in no small part, to this man. Thanks Simon. From one of the Zwift Killers (badge hunters)

Mike Ousey
2 months ago

What name do you use on Zwift so that people can follow you

Simon Richardson
Simon Richardson
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Ousey

Simon Richardson Proparacyclist is my zwift name

Mike Ousey
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Ousey

Simon Richardson

Sven Milo
Sven Milo
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Ousey

Fortunately you used the picture above for your profile, there are quite a few Simon Richardsons. The honor will all be mine of joining you on a Zwift ride. But if you hit 3w/kg steady pace, I’ll surely drop off. PS: the long time needed to warm up the legs is very familiar to my 53year ‘less younger’ body as well !

Simon Richardson
Simon Richardson
2 months ago
Reply to  Sven Milo

It’s ok I normally ride at about 1.5 to 2w/kg and just spin in 39 ring at 100+rpm and normally with my efforts it’s about 2.5 to 6w/kg depending on how flat road is. I am still struggling to maintain 2.5+ at the moment but it is going the right way

Sara Lance
Sara Lance
2 months ago

Simon, you are an inspiration to all of us riders out there. Thank you so much Chris for telling his story and connecting us to his incredible humanity and triumph in adversity. I look forward to riding with you in Zwift.

Ride on both of you,

Sara Lance

M. d. s. Günther
M. d. s. Günther
2 months ago

Well i know what i’m doing this sunday 🙂 Really inspirational, thanks to both of you, Simon and Christopher, for sharing.

Cade
Cade (@caderiver)
2 months ago

This was a truly inspirational series and best of luck to Simon on his road to recovery, I suspect we will see him towards the front of the sport again because he really doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you can keep down. When I first read this article you had me confused for a minute because Simon shares his name with Simon Richardson the GCN presenter 😄

Simon Richardson
Simon Richardson
2 months ago
Reply to  Cade

Yes there are 3of us myself, simon from Bristol area and simon who works for cycling weekly it gets a bit confusing at times and even more so when I went to Beijing

Damian Walker
2 months ago

Hey there Simon, What a player! I would love to join you but probably couldn’t keep up with you. I lost 2 lobes of right lung to Cancer in 2017 and I’m a ‘Billy no-mates’ when it comes to cycling. I’ll look out for you in Zwift, It’s tough just now at 67. You’re a star!

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