Allister MacSorley: Finishing the Armoy lap that nearly killed me
"Being a paramedic and being medically minded, I know how close I came to not making it on a number of occasions."
At the 2018 Armoy Road Races, Motorcycle Union of Ireland 'flying doctor' Allister MacSorley was left paralysed after a crash with a medical van.
But despite his life-changing accident, MacSorley says he now remembers the annual road race for a positive reason.
On Saturday morning, he completed the lap of the County Antrim circuit that nearly claimed his life 12 months before.
"It was an amazing feeling to get back out on my bike and to wear that iconic [Flying Doctor] helmet that means so much to me, my family and entire racing community," said the Portadown man.
"To get to finish the lap was pretty special and seeing all of the medics, marshals and fans trackside, cheering, clapping and waving their programmes was pretty emotional," adds MacSorley, whose father Fred was a Flying Doctor for 30 years.
"I wanted to lift my hand off the handlebar and wave, but I couldn't because I'd lose my balance and fall off.
"I had no option but to pull the clutch in and rev the throttle, so that was my way of acknowledging the crowd.
"The whole thing was just exceptional and I'm still on cloud nine at being able to achieve this just 12 months on from the incident."
'This guy is awesome'
MacSorley's first race as a MCUI travelling doctor was at the 2017 Tandragee 100, where paraplegic Talan Skeels-Piggins was doing a parade lap 14 years on from a crash that left him in a wheelchair.
He recalls riding behind Skeels-Piggins and thinking that "this guy was awesome" while the Englishman completed his parade laps.
"When I was aware that I was paralysed, whilst it was devastating, I had Talan's achievement in my mind and I thought I could get back on a motorcycle again," said MacSorley.
"I remember the adaptations that he had on his bike, and then I had the idea about finishing my lap at Armoy.
"I was still in the ICU at the time, which is probably a bonkers thought, and I don't think my mum enjoyed hearing it."
MacSorley adapted his standard motorbike, putting the electronic gear shifter and a thumb operated rear brake on the handlebars of his machine.
"I had told my dad about this idea a while back and we went over to Talan's charity that provides for paralysed riders, and that was my first time back on a bike.
"I wasn't going any quicker than about 20 miles per hour, but I was able to learn how to balance and steer.
"That was hugely emotional for us because it meant that doing the lap at Armoy was a realistic thing to do."
It's all about natural feel
"Before I got on the bike I was a little bit worried that it wouldn't feel the same as before," said the 30-year-old. "Obviously I can't use my thighs and hips to steer the bike, or lean off the bike to steer into the corners.
"I thought that might take away a bit of the enjoyment but once I was out there and got away it felt amazing and it was really enjoyable.
"As a rider you have that natural instinct about how to balance and control the bike, so it was just fantastic. It just felt natural.
"I was aware of my limitations and I didn't go too fast in the corners or do anything stupid, but you could open it up on the straights.
"I didn't look down at the speed during the lap, but during a test through the week I gave it full throttle for a while and I got up to 120mph, which is quite decent."
My friends saved my life
"My mum and dad were both there today and it was emotional for both of them," added MacSorley on Saturday.
"We're looking at this one-year anniversary as a time to celebrate because I'm still here and I'm in a really good condition.
"That's mainly down to my own friends on the medical team here that worked so hard to save my life last year.
"I don't remember anything about the accident. It's probably better that I don't have those memories so I can move on a little bit easier.
"But today is about celebrating that I'm still here and on this day I'll be able to look back at what I achieved 12 months on, rather than have this date be a day for sadness.
"It's all about what I can do and that's what I want my life to be. I've a lot of life left in me and I plan to live it.
"I've spoken in depth to the medical team and the air ambulance crew about how sick I was at the scene and just how bad things were.
"I'm so thankful for every single person who worked to keep me alive and to help me get rehabilitated. I do feel that I've had a second chance at life so I plan to make the most of it."
I've been given a second chance
MacSorley, while not able to work as an operational paramedic day-to-day, says that he's has been given plenty of opportunities to pursue in the medical profession.
"I'm still working with the medical team at the races, I look after the minor injuries and if there is a serious incident I help co-ordinate everything, so it's really nice to still be involved, and I can still contribute meaningfully towards the team.
"At the minute I'm doing a bit of basketball with the Craigavon Lakers too, which is really good fun, and I've just bought a hand cycle so I'm starting to get into that.
"I've a lot on the horizon which I'm really lucky to have. I'll set some ambitious targets in the near future.
"This is quite significant, 12 months on and I'm back on a bike. I've finished my lap so I feel like I can put it to bed and draw a line under it and it's all about looking forward."