A team of fifteen wounded, injured and sick ex-servicemen and women are about to embark on a gruelling coast-to-coast bike ride along some of the toughest roads in the Pyrenees.
They have been preparing physically and mentally for almost a year and for some it will be the biggest challenge they have ever faced.
The days will be as long and hard as the hills, and the team will need to be prepared for the constantly changing temperatures and weather conditions as they ascend and descend the big Cols.
Starting on a beach by the Atlantic and finishing in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, Raid 17 is a journey in a number of ways. It is physically a journey of some 720km (450 miles) climbing at least 11,000m (36,000ft) of hill and mountain, and on many days following in the tracks made famous by of the Tour de France.
It is also a journey for all the individuals who will make up the mini-peloton. Each rider will have had to overcome significant challenges in order to achieve the levels of fitness and skill required to get to the start line, and all will suffer pain and hardship at different levels during the seven-day ride.
Jonathan Thomson, ex-Royal Marine and organiser of Raid 17 said: “It will be an immense test of physical and mental endurance for all who participate, and a true journey of discovery which will have lasting effects”
65 Degrees North hopes that this endeavour will encourage many veterans who wish to challenge themselves and prove yet again that there is life beyond injury.
For some of the team, Raid 17 has provided them with an opportunity to learn a new skill and for many it has given them a sense of purpose and goal to aim for.
Road Cycling is a new sport for Ian ‘Mack’ McCormack, and being selected for the Raid 17 team has given him the drive and motivation to push himself hard again.
Ian suffers from a condition called Reactive Arthritis, causing severe inflammation and pain to multiple joints within his body, lethargy, conjunctivitis and ulcers.
He admits that he struggled to come to terms with his condition:
“When I became ill I lost everything, my career, my hobbies, my sense of self-worth. Simple tasks such as walking, dressing, and using a knife and fork were extremely difficult. I isolated myself and became very depressed. Cycling is ideal because I can’t compare myself to the person I was before I became ill. It’s a non-impact sport so it is ideal for my condition. Raid 17 has given me a reason to train! My legs have become very strong and I walk a lot better.”
Another team member, Chris Hawes, will be taking on the challenge using a hand-bike. Chris joined the Royal Air Force in 1998 as a Ground Support Equipment Electrician. An accident resulted in serious trauma to his leg and left Chris suffering from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
He was medically discharged in 2005 due to ongoing issues with his leg. Several years of constant pain, failed surgery and treatment left Chris suffering with depression. In 2011 he made the decision to have his leg amputated above the knee. He has been training hard for the event and says:
“Raid 17 has given me the chance of something to aim for and to focus my mind on, which stops me dwelling on my amputation and other problems. It’s been challenging keeping to the training plan that I set myself but the huge sense of accomplishment I feel by overcoming the difficult times is keeping me motivated. I know it’s going to be hard climbing the long, steep hills but it wouldn’t be worth doing if it wasn’t a struggle!
“A team of experts from Swansea University and the University of South Wales have been helping us prepare physically and mentally, and I am just going to focus on one hill at a time. If anyone is thinking about getting involved with a similar challenge I would say ‘Go for it!’ Don’t listen to the doubts in your head, or people who say you can’t do it due to your disability, if you want to do it just go for it or you might regret not doing it.”
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