Game of Thrones and Luther actor and Parkinson’s UK VIP supporter Enzo Cilenti wrote an unusual message in his father Pietro’s birthday card in 2017: ‘Get ready. You’ve got a year. We’re cycling on a tandem from Land’s End to John O’Groats.’ Here Pietro talks about that challenge, and how cycling helps his Parkinson’s.
Cycling has always been the only way I’ve been able to keep fit – even before my Parkinson’s. I started when I was around 50. The children had left home and the family was settled. I found it exhilarating and a good way to keep the weight off and still enjoy my food.
When I got Parkinson’s it blew me out of the water. It initially took away my cycling and I stopped taking part in the sportives [long distance road events] I used to do. I shied away from cycling for a while and found the odd time I did go out on the bike I didn’t have the strength for it as much as before.
When I read Enzo’s message in the card I just thought, ‘there’s no way we can do this’. I’m not fit and I just can’t do ten hours a day on a bike. But I got my head around it and started serious training. It was a case of starting with rides of 45 minutes to an hour, then up to two hours and slowly building up to longer rides.
If you don’t have something you’re aiming for you can put things off and think there’s no reason to get out there, especially if you’re having a bad day.
My body refused to go longer and faster at first, but I felt the benefit of the workouts more or less straight away. The training was making me feel a lot more energised and a lot clearer in my mind. It was hard and my legs felt heavy after a ride, but slowly and surely I was building up the times and distances. And I finally got to a point where I thought, ‘this is possible now!’
I feel very strongly about the benefits of exercise and getting out in the fresh air. It certainly works for me. I never thought I could turn back the clock but it really felt that I’d reduced my symptoms by 50%. I was amazed! I just felt so, so strong. My legs felt really good during the training. And my balance improved dramatically – it seemed a lot better when I was walking and obviously balance is very important with the tandem.
During the ride I felt great. I don’t want to use the word ‘easy’ because it certainly wasn’t and there were difficult times especially during some of the climbs. The training made all the difference.
I think having a goal is very important – set yourself a goal and work towards it. If you don’t have something you’re aiming for you can put things off and think there’s no reason to get out there, especially if you’re having a bad day.
One thing I noticed from the training was that it was far more beneficial for me to go out four, five or six times a week and do smaller distances rather than do one big ride in one day. I found my body responded far better to smaller, regular exercise sessions. And that way I could balance the other things in my life.
When I’m on my bike I feel as though I’m getting away from Parkinson’s – I’m concentrating on other things, not my problems. I like gadgets so I’m looking at the computer and checking my speed, the gradient, the temperature and the cadence. It keeps your mind working at a different level.
"I live in London and Dad’s in Bradford. I first noticed the changes over the phone when we’d chat and report back on how much training we’d done. There was a huge increase in Dad’s positivity and general outlook. When we got together to train I was watching him do things he wasn’t capable of two or three years ago. The change in Dad’s strength was incredible. And when we did our first tandem training ride it was just magical.
Approaching the big ride you could see a whole new level of positivity and determination. And the ride was wonderful. I felt incredibly proud of him and still do, of course."