On 10 August 2014, Nicola Tait and her partner, Kris Cook, took to the start line of the 2ND RideLondon-Surrey 100 bike ride. Just hours later, Nicola saw her world turned upside down when her partner, Kris, suddenly collapsed during the ride. Experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest, Kris was treated by riders and medics on scene but sadly passed away due to an undiagnosed heart condition.
“It was very traumatic and is still very painful for me,” said Nicola. “We got caught up in horrible weather conditions and, as we got into West Byfleet, Pyrford and Ripley, Kris complained of a chest pain.
“They shut off the second of the three big hills because the weather was so terrible so we only had to go up one hill, Newlands, which is fine because we’d done it loads before, so we knew we could get up there.
“Kris and my best friend Lucy went off in front of me. As I got round the corner I saw Lucy standing out in the middle of the road and she told me that Kris had collapsed. At that point I didn’t really know what was going on. It wasn’t until they started giving him CPR that I thought this was more serious. To be honest with you, my brain just shut down after that, I went into complete shock.
“I remember the helicopter and air ambulance coming down at Newlands Corner and me thinking, he’s OK. And then they took me home, shortly after I had one of those phone calls from the police saying, ‘What number do you live at?’ That’s when I knew it was the worst possible outcome I could imagine.”
Spending six months in a state of shock after the incident, Nicola has been through inexplicable grief. But the 36 year-old told us that running – and cycling, has saved her, bringing spirit, purpose and positivity back to her life.
Nicola starting running in 2008 when her grandfather was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, yet turned her attentions to cycling after suffering a period of injury. Shying away from running and cycling in light of Kris’ death was never an option for Nicola and, just a week after RideLondon, she was joined by 300 cyclists to ride to the top of Newlands Corner, where Kris died, to lay flowers in Kris’ memory.
“All the cyclists came out as a mark of respect to take me to the top because the last words he said to me were, ‘I’ll meet you on the left-hand side, Nik, in the usual spot.’ It was so eerie and silent, you could have heard a pin drop as we cycled up there. It was so overwhelming but I was in complete shock.”
Needing an outlet to fuel her grief and something to focus her energies, Nicola signed herself up for a number of running events. “Kris knew how passionate I was about running and cycling and I think he would have worried a lot about how I would have been coping,” says Nicola.
“We had spent all of our summer out on bikes. After an event you get a massive void anyway. I had stopped cycling and I’d lost my partner as well, so the weekends got very, very lonely. You finish work on a Friday and everyone goes off to his or her partner’s to start their weekends and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
“I found running, in particular, one of the best things to do to help – as opposed to going down another route, such as drinking, self-harming and taking anti-depressants. It’s a free kind of therapy.”
In January 2015 the following year, Nicola was joined by a team of friends to take part in the Surrey Half Marathon to raise funds for the Woking Hospice – a charity that provided Nicola with a huge amount of support following Kris’ death. In August, Nicola, again joined by her friends, bravely took part in RideLondon-Surrey to raise funds for Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) and, from there on, TEAMKC was born. “After that, the guys who did it were like, ‘You’ve got a team here, we love being part of TEAMKC, we need to get it going’.”
Now involving 118 members, the running and cycling club TEAMKC, named and formed in Kris’ memory, has become central to Nicola’s life – and also to that of her family, friends and the runners of Woking. “The whole of Woking now know us!” says Nicola. “We all train together on Tuesday and Thursday nights and on a Sunday. We offer alternative routes for different levels and speeds so no one feels de-motivated. My dad comes out to any event, gets the van and loads the bikes!”
“We’ve raised about £20,000 for about five charities and we plan to do that again, plus more next year. We are all set up to run he Surrey Marathon on 13 March and five of us are running the London Marathon, I will personally be running for Widowed and Young who have helped me through this time.”
“I want to raise awareness of underlying heart conditions because, as there’s more and more events, a lot of people are putting themselves under pressure and sometimes, if you’ve got an undetected heart condition, these are the times that, unfortunately, it comes out.”
While Nicola is a huge advocate of the physical and mental benefits of running, she urges runners to visit their GP if they have any health worries. “Now we’ve got into a bit more of a fitness nation, where there are all these endurance events, you really do need to take responsibility of yourself to make sure you are fit and healthy.”
If you’d like to donate to TEAMKC, helping to raise awareness of cardiac risk in the young, while also supporting the work of local charities, you can donate to Nicola’a Just Giving page here. You can also follow TEAMKC on Facebook and Twitter.