Chris Nicholson, left, won a cycling race four months after a heart attack. With him is Matt Fulton who saved his life by performing CPR. Photo: Sinead Ogilvie.

Cyclist back winning after heart attack

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Winning races is nothing new for former Olympic cyclist Chris Nicholson.

But last Thursday his victory in the annual Waitangi Day Lakes to Sea race was just a little bit special. It was the veteran Nelson cyclist’s first win since getting back on his bike after suffering from a potentially fatal cardiac arrest only four months earlier.

Chris, 46, finished the 80 kilometre Avanti Plus Richmond-sponsored ride from Lake Rotoiti near St Arnaud to Rabbit Island in just 1 hour 57 minutes and 44 seconds, outsprinting young riders Jason Thomsen and Cameron Ford in a three-way finish. After the race he joked that he “should get the most improved rider award because I went from dead to A grade in four months”, but then quickly conceded that his cardiac arrest was no joking matter. “I was sitting at my desk at work and my heart started going nuts. After that all I remember was waking up in hospital two days later wondering what I was doing there.

“They told me that something had gone wrong with the trigger system that controls the heart beat and that I had had a cardiac arrest. I found out later that there is only about a five per cent survival rate for cardiac arrest so I was very lucky.”

Chris says he owes his life to his colleague Matt Fulton who administered CPR at work until St John Ambulance arrived.

“Matt had been trained in CPR and he got straight onto it. The St John said it was the best CPR they had ever seen by a non-professional.

“He gave me some sore ribs but he saved my life. I don’t think a box of chocolates cuts the mustard on that one.”

Chris says he felt fine once his heart was defibrillated and that he hasn’t suffered any permanent damage. However, he needed two months to recover from surgery to fit a defibrillator to his heart to prevent the problem reoccurring.

“I only got back riding to work at the beginning of December. Then I had a couple of races after that but didn’t go that well because I had been lying on my back for six weeks.”

Chris says it has also taken some time to recover emotionally and he is still adjusting to his second chance at life.

“It’s been like attending your own funeral. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting on things and I know it will take time to adjust. It’s still early days but I’m just really grateful I have a second chance.”