AN inspirational Ross teenager faced up to a life-threatening condition by jumping right back into the saddle as he bravely battles to follow his dream.
Fin Graham, of Strathpeffer, won his first British title this summer just months after taking up the sport at a competitive level.
But within weeks, the teenager became seriously ill and was admitted to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness where he was diagnosed with systematic lupus erythrematosis – more commonly known as lupus – a disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in many parts of the body.
Such was the severity of his condition, including the impact on his kidneys and lungs, that his family wondered whether he would be able to return to competitive cycling.
But he confounded everyone, including medical staff, by taking part in the UCI Manchester Para-cycling International competition last weekend where he was part of a three-man team to scoop a silver medal in a mixed team sprint.
Although he was born with two club feet and has no calf muscle on his right leg, the committed youngster has never let his disability get in the way of his passion for cycling and he has ambitions to represent his country at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
He has already caught the attention of British Cycling coaches and became British national paracycling champion (road) for his category of disability at championships staged by British Cycling, the sport’s national governing body, in Chester and North Wales in July.
But soon afterwards, he started to feel ill and he recalled one race where he realised from the start something was wrong.
"I was not performing as I should be," he said. "My back was hurting halfway through and I was not able to produce the power I normally would."
Underdeterred, he went out for a cycle ride the following day but still felt "horrible" while his legs felt like lead.
He continued to suffer aches and pains but nothing specific as well as experiencing swellings to his joints and weight loss.
As his condition deteriorated, he was admitted to Raigmore Hospital on what should have been his 18th birthday in September. Three days later, he was diagnosed with lupus and started a gruelling programme of further tests and treatment.
It was about the same time American singer Selena Gomez was in the headlines after revealing she had undergone a kidney transplant due to lupus.
Fin now has to take medication twice daily for the rest of his life and also receive intravenous medication every six months although there was positive news this week that he appears to be heading towards remission.
His mother Dee, a children’s nurse at Raigmore, recalled the family’s anxiety following the diagnosis.
"Potentially it is life-threatening disease," she said. "It is a very complex disease.
"We were all thinking Fin was not going to be able to carry on with competitive riding. It was not looking good.
"Biking is everything to Fin. I was anxious about the effect it could have and what was he going to do if he couldn’t carry on."
But she has been impressed with her son’s commitment and drive to get back to the sport he loves.
"Fin’s determination is amazing," she said. "A problem like lupus is not going to hold him down.
"Lupus is such an individual disease. We have no idea what the future holds. But what I have learned from Fin is to take each day at a time. Seize the moment."
She also paid tribute to staff on ward 6A and the renal team at Raigmore Hospital.
"The consultant is delighted with his recovery and stressed how sick he was two months ago," she said. "He is amazed that in spite of the steroids he has to take, which cause muscle wasting, Fin is still managing to get on the podium!"
"He will have to take care in the future as the drugs can make him more susceptible to infection and some cancers but otherwise they are doing what they are meant to be doing regarding the kidneys and other areas."