After losing both lower legs and most of her fingers, avid runner Merle Connell knew she needed to find a way to be active again.
Nine years ago, Ms Connell contracted group A streptococcal (GAS), a bacterial infection which, very rarely, can cause serious complications leading to septic shock and in some cases, the amputation of extremities.
In Ms Connell’s case, she lost both her lower limbs and most of her fingers – but that did not stop her from looking for a bicycle she could steer herself.
Before contracting the illness, the former teacher had been fighting fit.
“Exercise was a big part of my life; I couldn’t go a day without running and then, maybe going to the gym as well,” she said.
Ms Connell had been for a 10-kilometre run the day she became unwell and over a period of seven months, endured multiple surgeries.
“I couldn’t think of anything worse. It brought everything to a full stop,” she said.
“It’s done a lot of damage to my confidence and I’ve just had to change direction.”
The 60-year-old who lives an hour north of Melbourne, in Kilmore, Victoria, had been searching for the right bike for a long time.
Bike ‘blows her mind’
On Friday, she travelled to Brisbane to pick up her “dream wheels” from EveryBody E-Bikes, a bike shop catering to people living with mobility issues or a disability.
Ms Connell said it was the only place she could find in Australia that would build her a bike she could ride without experiencing pain.
After her first ride – and a few tears – Ms Connell said the freedom of movement it had given her had “blown her mind [and] must be what taking drugs is like.”
“We were all crying; it was pretty amazing,” said Andrea Herklots, a co-owner of the electric bike business.
She said it was a perk of the job to see people like Ms Connell, who had lost their freedom and independence, be able to find happiness in riding a bike again.
“Quite often they’re scared of failure of not being able to ride.”
Richard Herklots said it was incredibly rewarding to see people ride bicycles, sometimes for the first time in their lives, when they never imagined they could.
Mr Herklots, who has an engineering background, said the e-bike business was a personal project for him.
“[Merle] had been looking all over for a custom bike [and] we provide customised e-bike solutions for people with disabilities,” he said.
“She had very limited hand movement [with] very limited digits to be able to operate the brakes, so we used a braking system from Norway that has a wireless braking system.
“It requires very little force to activate the brakes and very limited hand movements [to operate].”
Ms Herklots said their Wilston shop was a “safe environment” for people to practise riding the bikes.
“We try to offer solutions to anybody no matter how nervous they are,” she said.
“[We] give people the opportunity to see what they can do, time and time again.”