A chat with Neil Scruton

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Neil Scruton for a chat. Neil’s business, GRQ Industrial and Engineering Supplies, is a proud sponsor of the Illawarra Cycle Club. I wanted to understand his motivation for supporting grass roots cycling in the Illawarra. I also knew that his wife Kate suffered a horrific accident while out training a few months ago. I wanted to hear more about her journey to recovery. The chat was at times confronting, heart warming, inspiring, terrifying, funny and so much more. I hope to have conveyed some of those emotions in this story.

Neil’s connection to riding and racing bikes goes back many years. As far back as the 1980s he was racing downhill and mountain bikes, going as far as racing Nationals in the former. He was heavily involved in the racing scene during these times, from his own racing, to committee work, to running events himself. So in some ways supporting the local club was a fait accompli for Neil. Yet I could sense that financial support is only a small part of what he wants to do for the Illawarra Cycle Club. For reasons soon to be explained Neil’s time has been incredibly limited these last few months so that work remains on the ‘to do’ list.

When Neil and Kate met 12 years ago Kate had spent more time in the water than on two wheels. She was an avid swimmer and water polo player. She represented Australia in water polo so clearly had the ability to match her passion. Bike riding soon became a shared hobby and a great excuse for the couple to spend time together while also getting fit and making new friends. Kate found great support in other female cyclists from across the region and they encouraged her to try everything, from road to track to time-trials. Kate found a natural ability in time-trialling and Neil did all he could to support her in this.

On that fateful morning on the 8th February Neil wasn’t able to ride but was meeting the bunch for the post-ride coffee ritual. He was a few hundred metres behind a big traffic jam sitting idle, worried about being late. He glanced at his phone to see six missed calls from the riding buddies he was due to meet. A quick call found his worst fears realised – Kate was hurt and hurt bad. Her accident was the reason for the traffic jam he was stuck in. With hazard lights on he shot up the emergency lane and held his wife while the ambulances and helicopter came to her aide. I don’t think anyone can imagine what that would have felt like.

The injuries Kate sustained are mind blowing. Her strength, both physical and emotional, almost defy belief. She was in hospital for five weeks, half of which was in Intensive Care. She was discharged to the relief of her loving family (human and dogs).

But that wasn’t the end. A few months on and Kate has another massive battle on her hands. Post-surgery complications see her back in St George hospital. Every three days she goes under general anaesthetic for surgery on her back. She fasts for half a day, is in surgery for a few hours. She spends a day recovering from the surgery, has a ‘good day’ and then repeats the process all over again. This needs to happen about 10 times in total. She will be in hospital for about eight weeks.

Imagine how this current set-back feels, after already healing from the initial breaks and trauma. After already setting your goals on recovery to then be back at square one in hospital.

Neil’s words to me were that Kate is doing it tough right now. And who can blame her? The daily struggle would be draining to say the least. As for Neil, he is working full time in his business and every spare moment is spent in St George hospital with Kate. I met him on Saturday morning as he was driving north. He was going to be there till 9pm that night and the same on Sunday. His unwavering support for Kate is inspirational beyond anything you will see achieved on two wheels.

So what were some key take-outs for me and what can we do to help? 

The first thing I wanted to achieve by writing this piece is awareness. In today’s age of the 15-minute news cycle Kate’s recovery is easily forgotten. I assure you that it is ongoing and probably tougher now than it ever was. To know that this is happening we are in a position to do something about it.

When she is discharged from hospital the club will run a ‘Ride for Kate’ as a show of solidarity for her recovery. We will ride from Unanderra to Oak Flats, have a BBQ and put a smile on her face. A small gesture but hopefully something that will provide a little boost on her bumpy road to recovery. I note here that the ride will be open to EVERYONE. All clubs, all abilities, all ages. We will accommodate anyone that wants to get behind this cause. Stay tuned for details on when this will happen.

Another element to call-out is the financial cover that Kate has received following the accident. Approximately 18 months ago legislation was passed in NSW to extend the cover for ‘no fault’ accidents like this one. The truck driver was not at fault but his CTP insurance has covered all of Kate’s hospital costs thus far. Neil’s investigation found that this cover was greater than their own income protection or the cover included in Kate’s Cycling Australia membership. I make mention of this purely for the awareness and future benefit of any reader who finds themself in any similar situation (and I hope that never happens).

A final parting word is for Neil’s business, GRQ Industrial and Engineering Supplies. I have attached a product list to give an idea of the breadth of product that Neil stocks. Based in Warilla Neil will bend over backwards to help his customers, and that goes even further if you mention Illawarra Cycle Club. Be warned though, he will likely want to chat about the rides you’ve been doing and express his genuine desire to get back out and feel the freedom of being on two wheels again. This experience hasn’t dampened his love for cycling, just produced a virtual mountain that he and Kate need to ride over together.

Tim Packer.