Johnny Timms aims for cyberathlete glory

Best of luck, Johnny!
Best of luck, Johnny!

A young paralysed man from Aylesbury is in the final stages  of training at the Neurokinex specialist spinal cord injury rehab centre in Hemel Hempstead before competing in the Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) cycling race event Cyberbike in Lyon, France on September 8th.

Johnny Timms, 24, broke his neck aged 16 in a failed backflip attempt on a trampoline.

He lost 85% of his body movement and his recovery and rehab has been a slow and painful process.

To give him the focus to help overcome the hurdles in front of him, he became a Cybathlete.

Believing spinal cord injury can be improved by using advances in electrical technology, Johnny is setting out to prove the point by riding a Berkelbike using FES technology to place sticky electrodes on his muscles to fire a computer to make his legs appear to be fully functioning.

Going under the name ‘BionicBeer’ Johnny is out to win – not just the three events he is competing in but the attention of the wider world so they can see the potential of this technology to help people recover from spinal cord injury.

“My quest is to show that by embracing the latest neuroscience and neurorehabilitation technologies we can help move the dial toward better treatments and even a cure for spinal cord injury sooner” says Johnny.

“The science is showing us that the nervous system is capable of some remarkable changes when stimulated by various forms of electrical technology and that there are some really exciting developments to come in that space for spinal cord injuries in particular.

"I want to see these developments given more attention and urgency”.

On September 8, 2018 Johnny – aka ‘BionicBeer’ - will be taking part in a FES bike race event called ‘Cyberbike’. The idea of Cyberbike is to improve FES technology even further using a competitive focus alongside scientific development.

"For now, Vance Bergeron, the event organiser, is looking for collaboration by bringing together Brainiacs and Cybathletes in the first dedicated FES Cycling races and conferences. By using disabled athletes, they can pave the way for a better future in medical science and sport. This could in turn be applied to able-bodied cycling and create new age performance cyclists with next level training capabilities.

The Lyon Cyberbike 2018 comprises three challenges:

500 metre time-trail challenge: Using a starting ramp of the same design developed for the 2016 Cybathlon and placed 10 metres in advance of the race course, competitors will attempt to complete the 500-metre stretch as quickly as possible.

100 metre sprint challenge: With the same race configuration used for the 500m time trial challenge the race path will have 100 metre demarcations and the time interval for each 100 metre section will be recorded with the most rapid 100 metre stretch used for recording the competitors’ performance.

15-minute distance challenge: With the same race configuration used for the 500m time trial challenge, the competitors will ride consecutive loops for 15 minutes and the distance completed will be recorded and used to gauge their performance.

Johnny believes that electrical stimulation technology has an important role in the treatment of paralysis now, and in the future – and he is keen to blaze a trail in this space so that others can follow. He is building on ground-breaking treatment he has been receiving at Neurokinex, a specialist spinal cord injury rehabilitation centre based at Hemel Hempstead which incorporates a variety of leading edge electrical stimulation technologies coupled with intensive exercise programmes for improved function, independence and wellbeing. These Neurokinex programmes have provided Johnny with the building blocks for Johnny to become a competitive Cybathelete.

“I have been working with Johnny since January 2018 and our sessions at Neurokinex are about improving neuroplasticity, which means changing and adapting the nervous system,” says Neurokinex trainer James McLeod. “A long-term goal has been to improve Johnny’s muscle strength and muscle bulk. Using Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) we have focused on preserving and improving muscle mass on both Johnny’s upper and lower body. By improving these factors, we are reducing the risk of secondary consequences of a spinal cord injury such as muscle atrophy.

“Johnny is a pleasure to work with and we have seen some good results for example he was able to bench press 20kg for three repetitions and just three weeks later achieved 10 repetitions with this weight. Johnny is extremely determined and hardworking, I have no doubt he will perform well at the Cyberbike event and wish him the best of luck.”