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An 86-year-old RAF veteran, who never learned to ride a bike, is undertaking a ‘10 x 10’ cycling challenge – for 100 hours across 10 days – to raise funds for the Charity.

Eric Ayling, from Corsham, Wilts, is completing the challenge as his way of ‘giving back’ to local Army personnel and veterans who took him under their wing and helped him start to train in their gym at the tender age of 79.

What is more remarkable about his story is that not only did never learn to ride a road bike – he’ll be on a static bike for the duration of his challenge – but he was also diagnosed with cancer just before the pandemic.

Eric is known locally as ‘The Cycle Man’, having undertaken several epic static-bike challenges during the past seven years to raise money to support wounded and sick veterans.

However, this is, by far, his biggest challenge, almost doubling up on his previous feat of 2019 when he cycled for 60 hours across six days. To date he has raised more than £19,000 for us and hopes to raise another £10,000 for the Charity this time.

Eric has been training for six to seven hours a day, five days a
Eric has been training for six to seven hours a day, five days a week, for six weeks - Eric Ayling

While his exploits would challenge many people half his age, Eric is passionate about his cycling and hopes he will inspire others to exercise and keep fit, irrespective of age or illness.

He said: “People don’t believe it when I say I’m 86 years old – age is just a number and exercise is keeping my body young. Since I had my diagnosis, there’ve been days when my body gave up or I felt depressed, but the cycling and my fitness have helped me to overcome it. The tests show I’m improving all the time and my consultant has told me to keep on training – so I will. I aim to live to 100.”

Eric is no stranger to hard times in his life. He never learned to ride a bike was because he was brought up in an orphanage, having been put into care when he was just 12 months old following a tragic chain of events that began with his father being killed in an earthquake, while serving in the RAF in India. Subsequently, his mother was unable to look after him on her own and handed him to a neighbour who placed him in a children’s home.

His tough childhood led Eric to join the RAF at the age of 17. He went on to serve for 10 years during the 1950s, doing tours in Cyprus and Germany and representing the service as a featherweight boxer. After leaving the Armed Forces he became an athletics and boxing coach, living close to our headquarters, near Salisbury.

He moved to Corsham six years ago, after his wife, Katherine, passed away following a long battle with breast cancer. Her mental health suffered as a result of her illness and he was her carer for 20 years. They had three children together, but, in 1995, his eldest daughter, Maria, died, aged just 19, from deep vein thrombosis. He remains close to his children and grandchildren who are all hugely supportive of him and his fundraising activities.

Eric, as he was, while serving with the RAF in Germany, in 1954
Eric, as he was, while serving with the RAF in Germany, in 1954 - Eric Ayling

Eric, as he was, while serving with the RAF in Germany, in 1954

Eric added: “I know it’s going to be hard. I think the first four days will be okay but after that I’m going to have to really dig in to keep myself going. But I’m confident I can do it and am excited at the idea of achieving something I’ve never done before. Plus, if I can raise more money for a charity that means a lot to me and help make sure that ex-servicemen and women and their families can keep on getting the support they need, that’s another great reward.”

Eric’s 10 x 10 challenge takes place at his local leisure centre, Springfield Leisure Campus, from 9am to 7pm, from 22-29 November, and has already garnered national media coverage. Donations may be made in support of his efforts at his Just Giving page.

If you fancy following Eric's example and taking on a challenge, why not sign up for one of ours, now.