A couple of nights ago I went cycling on Virgin Gorda with Holly and Sam as part of my training for the Virgin Strive Challenge. I was heading down a hill towards Leverick Bay when it suddenly got really dark and I managed to hit a ‘sleeping policeman’ hump in the road head on. The next thing I knew, I was being hurled over the handlebars and my life was literally flashing before my eyes.
I really thought I was going to die. I went flying head-first towards the concrete road, but fortunately my shoulder and cheek took the brunt of the impact, and I was wearing a helmet that saved my life (however, perhaps they should build bike helmets that protect the side of the face too - does anyone know of one?). My bike went flying off the cliff and disappeared. We’ve since recovered the crumpled bicycle, completely destroyed. My cheek has been badly damaged and my knee, chin, shoulder and body severely cut.
As I landed, once I realised I was alive, I began testing my movement. I really couldn't believe I was alive, let alone not paralysed. Coincidentally, the first person to arrive on the scene was my assistant Helen, who had just returned from holiday. She was wondering who was lying prostrate on the road. I was so glad to be alive that I quickly was able to summon my sense of humour, and said to her: “I’m alive! At least you’ve still got a job!”
George, one of the team, sprinted from the bottom of the hill and the team soon got me back home and patched up. I travelled to Miami for x-rays and scans, but have been extremely fortunate that apart from a cracked cheek and some torn ligaments I hopefully will be able to complete the Virgin Strive Challenge next month. My biggest hardship is having to drink tea out of a straw. Oh, and being called elephant man by a six year old!
My attitude has always been, if you fall flat on your face, at least you’re moving forward. All you have to do is get back up and try again. At least I’m practicing what I preach – though a little too literally!
The date of the accident just happened to be the fifth anniversary of the fire on Necker Island. What a way to mark it! Thankfully, good fortune has smiled on me so far. It has been quite a year, I’ve been in the wars knocking my teeth out playing tennis not once but twice, and also being kissed by a ray and running into a bullet proof door.
Over the years I’ve had many brushes with death, not least in my ballooning adventures. In the documentary Don’t Look Down, which we’re releasing soon, my co-pilot Per Lindstrand quotes Napoleon: “I know he's a good general, but is he lucky?” He says I have certainly been lucky – I wouldn’t disagree!
Today my son Sam mentioned another fitting quote, from Hunter S. Thompson: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
Head over to the Virgin Strive Challenge to learn more about our upcoming adventure and, if you feel inclined and can afford it, donate to support positive change for young people in the UK.
The Virgin Strive Challenge will see a group of people - including Richard Branson and his children, Holly and Sam - travel from the base of the Matterhorn, more than 2000 kilometres to the summit of Mt Etna in Sicily. The testing month-long journey will see Strivers hike across the alps of Northern Italy, cycle to the Southern tip of Italy, swim to Sicily, mountain bike to the foothills of Mount Etna, and complete a half-marathon run to the summit of the volcano; all while raising £1.5 million for Big Change to support innovative projects that arm young people with the necessary tools they need to thrive in life, not just the classroom.