Dr Gareth Davies: Caring for the TT
In the latest episodes of The TT Podcast, Chris Pritchard and Steve Plater are joined by one of the TT’s Chief Medical Officers, Dr Gareth Davies.
Born and bred a Manxman, and growing up as a big TT fan, Gareth tells the guys he always wanted to give back to the races. As it turns out, helping out at the TT after he first qualified as a doctor gave Gareth the footing he needed for the rest of his career. He explains how his experience on the TT helicopter around the end of the 80s meant when he applied for a post in London, where the helicopter had come from, he was best placed to take on the job.
Having been the Medical Director of London’s Air Ambulance, Gareth tells the guys about how the medical response to accidents at the TT has gone on to shape the work of paramedics in the UK capital, enabling open heart surgery to be performed in the street when needed. This procedure is now used around the world.
Gareth is proud of the Isle of Man: “the first record that I can find of anywhere in the world using civilian helicopters with a doctor on board is, believe it or not, the TT”. He says in that helicopter dating from the 1960s, there’d have been a copper, doctor, engineer and a pilot.
As a motorcyclist, Gareth tells Chris and Steve how he’d dreamed of getting the tap on the shoulder and heading down Bray Hill. His mother had other ideas though, and he ended up with a pony instead: “it’s not a part of my career I’m proud of”. He did get a TY175 and a YZ175, but says focusing on his studies meant he never got the opportunity to race.
The only way Gareth’s mum would let him ride a bike, was if he took the advanced rider tests available on the Island. Gareth encourages any budding motorcyclists to do the advanced tests: “They’re not what you think. They’re not about poodling along, putting your arm out. They’re about maximum progress”.
Asked to explain what Gareth’s Senior Race Day looks like; he says it starts early with checks and simulations at the hospital; then there’s communications with the clerk of the course and briefings on things like the weather. The helicopters are kept at Alpine and Keppel, with cars covering the area from Hilberry to Ballagarey. Gareth explains how the teams get deployed during racing, and how they decide where to land - including communicating with the pilots of the TV helicopters.
Gareth says he’s proud to lead a team of 40-50 volunteers delivering what he deems to be the best care anywhere in the world of motorsport.
For Gareth, the two year TT hiatus brought on by Covid-19 meant time was afforded to step back and think about the event as a whole. He says he and the other bosses concluded that the safety and response to risk was paramount if the TT was going to exist in the future for their children and children’s children to enjoy: “We were engineering out all unnecessary risk … and that has to be done in a very active way.”
So how does Gareth deal with the difficult moments he’s witnessed on the job? “If it doesn’t affect you, if you don’t take it home, there’s something wrong with you.” He says what’s important is making sure it doesn’t stop him from doing his day job. Referring to the tragedies of TT2022, Gareth says there’s a degree of mourning for the individuals, their families and teams, and a degree of mourning for the event. He goes on, “The most important thing is that we learn from those events and minimise any risks going forwards.”
Equally, Gareth’s work has saved people’s lives. He recalls a crash a few years ago by Ray Malone at Ballaugh where - in most circumstances - the injuries would have been fatal, but this rider survived, drove himself to the TT, and is now threatening to marshall.
For Gareth, the TT is summed up by the human species: “What it can achieve, what it does achieve”. He says underneath the sheer bravery of the riders is the “complex web of people trying to support and make that happen” provided by volunteers and paid officials together.
Listen to Part One:
Listen to Two:
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