Interview – Jack Farmer, 8 year old sports lover

Jack Farmer, an 8 year old Sai Kung boy diagnosed with Perthes Disease, has inspired his family to start a charity called Pedal Through Perthes. We sat down with Jack to talk about football, school, and Pedaling Through Perthes.

My favourite class is PE. I love everything about it. I like to play football, tennis, and basketball. I also like swimming and cycling. I am a big fan of Aston Villa. My first favourite football player was Jack Grealish. I found him really cool. My current favourite is Harry McKirdy.

I love adventure. My family and I like going cycling around Asia. We did lots of bike trips around Borneo, Vietnam and Laos. I really like cycling in the heavy rain. There was this one time when it was raining so hard the water covered nearly half my tire. A big truck went by and water went flying over my head without touching me. My dad got wet but I was completely dry!

I found out I had perthes nine months ago. My family and I were confused when we found out. I had been limping on and off for a few weeks. At first we thought I had sprained a muscle as I was doing duathlons, cycling, and playing a lot of sports. We tried icing it but it kept happening. We decided to go to a specialist in November last year. I took an x-ray and the doctor said I had a bone condition. I didn’t really understand it at the time. We hadn’t heard of perthes before. I was given crutches and the doctor told me not to put too much weight on my leg.

I had surgery around 20 days after I found out. The surgeon put a plate and six screws in my hip joint. When we were going to Singapore for Christmas we were worried the plate would set off the metal detectors at the airport. Turns out it didn’t beep!

I talked to my class via Skype every day from my hospital bed. I would read to my reading buddy from hospital. Miss Morris would Skype me on her iPad so I could watch school assemblies. I loved it when the class went crazy and jumped up and down in front of Miss Morris’ laptop!

I was scared it would be embarrassing coming to school in my wheelchair but my friends were very supportive. I felt like I could trust them. They always included me in things. I took part in Sports Day this year in my wheelchair. There’s this Year 9 boy who my mum teaches — he is called Sean. He pushed me in my wheelchair in one of the races. We went really fast. I had fun. Another one of my mum’s students, Heidi swims with me in our school pool in the mornings before school, she is really fun!

I gave some presentations about perthes at school. I showed them my x-ray and my scar so they understood why I had been away. I told them why I use a wheelchair and crutches. I answered lots of questions like ‘What is this disease?’ and ‘How long will it last?’

I think everybody should try handcycling. I got my handcycle this summer in Edinburgh. A German company called Proactiv made it for me so I could continue cycling. I chose the colour and we attached a flag to it so buses and cars can see me when I go by.

It was hard to get used to cycling with my hands. I had to try two or three times before I got the hang of it. You have to hold your hands upright and move them at the same time. It’s not like foot pedaling where one foot goes up and another goes down. With handcycling you have to move your hands together. It can be hard to change gear quickly enough to gain speed on a hill. I can go 24km/hr on a handcycle.

I rode my handcycle in London with this guy called Robert Groves. He was very encouraging and he taught me how to handcycle. He was doing a 2,500 mile course to raise awareness about plastic in the oceans and he invited me to do the last 2 miles with him. I wanted to cycle more so I ended up doing 10 miles instead. I rode alongside the ambulance, the London police and paramedics.

It was my idea to name our charity ‘Pedal through Perthes’. My parents were thinking of naming it ‘Pedal For Perthes’ but I told them that we aren’t pedaling for perthes; we are pedaling through it. Perthes is a journey. There are lots of ups and downs but we will come out at the other end stronger. I asked Richie, our t-shirt designer, to make the mountains in our logo spikier to show that. My favourite colours are turquoise and light blue so I chose a green-blue-purple design.

I write letters to another boy who has perthes. He lives in the UK. His name is Jacob. He is 11. I haven’t met him in person yet but he wrote me a nice letter encouraging me to stay positive. We sent him one of our Pedal Through Perthes t-shirts.

I want to tell other kids who have perthes not to worry. Just try to stay happy. Keep active. It’s very easy to just sit around all the time but it’s important to find things to do. I am learning to sail with Sailability HK. They provide sailing activities for people with disabilities or higher support needs. My coach, Joshua, has down’s syndrome. I have learned so much from him. I know port is the left side of the boat, and starboard is the right side. I also know how to keep your boat upright.

When I get better I want to play rugby again. The hardest part of perthes is that I can’t do as many sports anymore. I can’t wait to do duathlons and BMX-ing again. At the moment I play football by balancing on one leg with my crutches. It will be really fun when I can play full-on.

The Farmer family is holding a charity cycle challenge at the RCHK basketball courts on November 11. The event will be raising funds for the Perthes Association and Sailability. Go to pedalthroughperthes.org to buy a Pedal Through Perthes t-shirt and support the fundraiser. Deadline for purchase is September 8.

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