Uphill battle for young arthritis sufferer
Tom Hill is gearing up to cycle from London to Monaco for champagne with a prince.
The gruelling 1000km ride, which ends with an official L2M (London to Monaco) afterparty with Prince Albert II at his palace, takes in eight countries over seven days to raise money for fishing and marine reserves charity Blue Marine Foundation.
And Tom, the 25-year-old director of Rivergate Marina & Shipyard, will have more mountains to conquer than most. He has a rare and aggressive arthritis that eats away at his bones, muscles and ligaments.
Riding in the same event in 2016 sparked the Queensland man's year-long quest for a diagnosis.
"Going into the ride the first time I didn't know I had a blood disease,” says Tom, who has represented Australia in swimming and cycles 350km every week.
"I knew I had an issue, but I didn't know what it was. I would wake up in the morning and feeling like I'd just done 1000 lunges.”
Even when his knee swelled so badly that he couldn't finish the last 200km of the 2016 ride, he had no idea of the dire diagnosis that was to come.
Back home, his condition worsened until Tom was eventually left bedridden for most of 2017. He "saw every doctor you can imagine” seeking answers and was eventually diagnosed and put on a chemotherapy-like treatment. Doctors feared he would eventually lose his ability to walk.
"I moved back into home because I couldn't get to the bathroom without someone under my arms. Coming from an elite sports background that was really hard,” Tom says.
He credits his mum for getting him through the year. Tom's parents are rich-listers Bob Hill and Judith Brinsmead who own construction group ADCO and superyacht refit and maintenance company Rivergate Marina & Shipyard. Judy also owns Tropical Fruit World in northern NSW.
"I've lived a very, very privileged life,” Tom acknowledges. "But without health that means absolutely nothing.
"(My diagnosis) was the start of a lot of things in my life I tried to start and never finished. That was really hard for me because once I set myself a goal, I'm all in or nothing.”
Tom's eventual victories were hard fought. Far from needing a wheelchair, he is back on his bike and fitter than ever for his return to the 2018 L2M.
"To gain fitness back from a year ago I've had a team of people around me,” he says.
"I've got a full-time coach ... and this time last year he had me standing up from a couch without using my arms, and that was it.”
Tom also learned to meditate which he now does for 10 minutes everyday. He is still undergoing medical treatment and is using a trial drug he says is delivering astounding results. Now, he has the French Alps in his sights.
"It has been really challenging having unfinished business and that's why I want to do the ride again,” he says.
"But I don't just want to be there, I want to lead the group as well. I want to go to the front, or if someone is having a bad day on the bike I want to help them mentally or push them up the hill. This year I know I'm going to finish it. I'm in way better shape than in 2016.”
And when he does finish, he will have earned the champagne he will share with Prince Albert II at his palace. Eighties pop icon Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran will also add star power to the event, sending the riders off in London on September 19 before they carve their way through the UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy before arriving in Monaco the day before the 2018 Monaco Yacht Show.
Tom will represent Rivergate Marina & Shipyard at the event.
"I will have literally climbed some mountains to get to Monaco, and there's something nice about that,” Tom says.