Hellesdon man Phil Armes makes history with Ulster GP triumph
- Credit: Paul Sewter
August 18, 1995 is a date that haunts Phil Armes – the day his world fell apart as he broke his back on the circuit of the Ulster Grand Prix.
However, he can now fondly look upon August 13, 2016, almost exactly 21 years later, as the day that ghost was laid to rest.
The 57-year-old exorcised an old demon when he returned to Northern Ireland and the scene of his accident, to complete a full lap of the circuit.
And for Mr Armes, it was double the joy, as his successful lap also vanquished the frustration of the previous year, when his attempted 20th anniversary lap was rained off.
This year, however, the rain steered clear, and the Hellesdon man was able to become the first paraplegic in history to complete a solo lap of the Dundrod road circuit.
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Mr Armes, a father-of-three, said: 'Dundrod is known as being one of the fastest circuits in the world – however, it's taken me 21 years to complete one lap.
'All joking aside though, it was such an amazing moment. The reaction I received at the end of the lap was incredible.'
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Riding a customised Triumph Daytona 675, Mr Armes followed marshals around the 7.4 mile circuit, ahead of a full weekend of racing in the Ulster Grand Prix.
'I was very nervous in the lead up to the lap,' he said.
'However, once I started I was in riding mode, so the nerves soon went away, I was just so focused on what I was doing.
'I didn't really think about passing the spot where I crashed, but it was a nice feeling as I whizzed by it, being able to say to myself, 'Well, there's that ghost laid to rest'.'
An emotional moment followed as he was given a hero's welcome on completing his lap.
'I was very lucky to have been wearing a dark visor – for a moment the emotion of it all really got to me,' he added. 'I'm not ashamed to admit there were a few tears when it dawned on me just what a huge accomplishment it really was.'
Mr Armes was then able to soak up the admiration of his peers and the audience, spending the whole remainder of the day speaking to fellow motorcyclists, mechanics and members of the public.
He said: 'The response was overwhelming. So many people offered me their congratulations and commented on how brilliant it was to see me out there.
'The organisers of the Grand Prix really did me proud. Everybody was extremely welcoming and made sure it ran very smoothly
'However, I owe the most to my team – Paul Sewter, Gerry Newson and Vic Crisp. Without their hard work, support, and dedication, none of this would have happened.
'My only regret was that I wasn't able to do a second lap, I was just having so much fun out there.'
Mr Armes celebrated his 57th birthday the day after his triumphant lap, and with lack of a birthday cake, his team arranged for his breakfast sausage the next day to arrive with candles in.
And in two weeks time, he will be in for another treat, by finally completing a lap of the famous TT circuit in the Isle of Man.
He said: 'It will be the fourth time I have attempted this, and each time has been as frustrating as the last – but I'm feeling good about this time.'
Mr Armes's first attempt came in 2013, on a different motorbike, which suffered gearbox failure.
The following year, it was rain
that got in the way, while last year, issues with suspension halted his quest.
'We now know what the bike is capable of and that the set-up is correct, so I'm confident 2016 will be the year,' said Mr Armes.
'I've felt like I've had a monkey to shift ever since I got back on a bike and this lap was just the start.'
Thriving in the aftermath
The crash happened during qualifying sessions for the 1995 Ulster Grand Prix on a corner called Deer's Leap – a right hand corner at the top of a hill.
'It was a big crash – I can remember it all,' he said. 'I can remember the big thud at the end where I went backwards into a kerb and can remember being picked up and taken to hospital.
'At the time I had no idea I had broken my back, I was more concerned with my right arm, because I had smashed that to bits,' he added.
He underwent a five hour operation to reconstruct his arm, but the following day he discovered he could not feel the bottom half of his body.
He said: 'When I discovered I was paralysed, in my own mind that was the end of my life. It wasn't just motorcycling, I played football to a reasonable standard and was a sportsman.
'The irony is, to this day nobody has ever said 'sorry Mr Armes, you will never walk again'.'
What came next was the long process of adjusting to life in a wheelchair, which has seen Mr Armes get involved with a wide range of different projects – setting up a PR company, delivering lectures on life as a paraplegic and hosting shows on Future Radio and Mustard TV.
Mr Armes first returned to a motorcycle in 2013, having been in contact with a charity called the Bike Experience, which is ran by another paraplegic
His first ride was at Snetterton, where he completed eight laps on a specifically designed bike.