ACUTE rheumatoid arthritis sufferer Sue Wigmore cannot unscrew a bottle or use a tin opener and at one stage was unable switch on an electric light, turn on a tap, get dressed or make a cup of tea.

But plucky Sue, who relies on “heavy duty and toxic drugs” to keep the incurable illness at bay, is determined to raise awareness of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) by undertaking an arduous 800-mile bicycle ride.

Sue, whose RA condition can induce chronic fatigue, will cycle from Brittany in Northern France to Spain – along with a taxing detour over a mountain.

“For a number of years I never thought I’d be able to walk properly again let alone head out on a bicycle," she said.

“I’ve no idea how it will go. It will probably be the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.

“But I will get there and I’m certain I’ll meet some interesting people and have a lot of fun and adventures along the way.”

Sue, a Swindon-based independent glass artist and jewellery designer, said: “I’m riding solo, completely self-supporting, staying in campsites, fields – wherever I can find a safe place to stop.

“I’ll only be taking what I can carry – so minimal clothes changes.”

Sue, who hopes to raise funds as well as awareness for the NRAS, will this afternoon be driven to Plymouth to catch a ferry to Brittany.

There she will begin her month-long marathon that will take her the length of France mainly along the Atlantic Coast EuroVelo 1 road.

On her trusty hand-built bike that she calls Bob she will have a crack at the Col du Tourmalet, a legendary Tour de France stage in the Pyrenees mountains, before heading to Santander for the ferry home.

She said: “I used to do cycle tours in France years ago when I was well and this route has always been a personal dream.”

Sue, who began to feel the symptoms of RA about 20 years ago, has endured extreme pain and anguish which also brought on bouts of depression. But she is full of praise for the Great Western Hospital which helped her overcome her darkest days when she could hardly move by putting her on a specially devised physio programme two years ago.

She said: “I would love to be able to give people with RA the hope and inspiration that things aren’t impossible.

“Sometimes you have to wait, adapt how you do things, take small steps and be prepared to change as you go along.

“But you’ll get there if you want it enough.”

Sue will be writing a blog on her trip at:

Anyone wishing to sponsor her can contact her at:

What the condition really means

EXPLAINING her illness Sue said: “RA is an autoimmune disease, the main symptoms being pain, swelling and stiffness mainly in joints, sometimes in other organs. 
​“As a result most people including myself experience chronic fatigue.

“It can affect people of any age and there is no cure. I’m lucky enough at present to be in a drug maintained remission.

“But this is comparatively rare and it could flare up again at any time.”

Most RA sufferers, herself included, use a combination of drugs called DMARDs - disease modifying anti rheumatic drugs. 

She said: “These are pretty heavy duty and toxic.

“The drugs can have many negative side effects. I have to have liver function tests monthly and I’ve had several episodes of pneumonia due to drugs impairing my immune system.

"A few years ago I ended up in hospital for some time with a suspected pulmonary embolism.  

“At its worst in my case the inflammation had caused dislocation of some bones in my feet and toes. I was unable to walk or even at times carry out things we take for granted like turning on a light switch or getting dressed.

“Ringing a friend to ask if they can bring some food around or make a cup of tea is not fun.

“But I count myself very fortunate in having wonderful family, friends, a team at GWH and my GP surgery and information and support from NRAS.”