Robyn Staveley, BBBR 2017 staff rider, blogs about this year's flagship Help for Heroes bike ride.
A chilly Tournai awoke last Monday morning to the unmistakable sound of bagpipes – first warming up – then going full pelt after a moving service referencing the events of this day 16 years ago, 9/11. Our Pedalling Pastor was keen to stress to our amazing riders that “life is hard”, but also that you never need to be alone through the struggle.
These words no doubt resounded loud and clear with our fleet of 200 Veterans, beneficiaries, fundraisers and supporters who certainly faced some challenging terrain this week: between the hills, and divots, and cobblestones and tram lines, I think most would be hard pressed to choose their “favourite” part of the route. Yet they persevered and were awarded with stunning scenery and awe-inspiring demonstrations of solidarity: from waiting for each other at the top of a particularly steep hill, to finding solo riders and buddying up to make sure no one was alone for long.
However, this week wasn’t just about cycling 350 miles through France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was about individuals challenging themselves; it was about showing support for our wounded, injured and sick; it was about showing the world that Help for Heroes, our beneficiaries and our supporters are a force for good.
Our amazing battlefield guides were also keen to remind us that these fields of wheat, through which we are passing briefly, have seen so much worse than ‘middle-aged men in Lycra’. Each day, we visited Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries where our contingent paid their respects to those who sacrificed so much for us to be there in peace. Our Pedalling Pastor’s moving words had largely the desired effect of rallying our fleet – of all faiths and none – to face the challenges ahead.
Towards the end of our Big Battlefield Bike Ride, the Pastor reminded us that “we have much to be grateful for” – I feel that out of the many inspiring moments of our trip, these words helped our cyclists over the finish line in Arnhem – the John Frost Bridge.
On the final evening, at our celebration dinner, it was plain to see that this fleet had bonded; friendships had been forged and plans had been made for June 2018. The discomfort encountered on some of the earlier days eclipsed by the feeling of pure elation at having successfully completed the challenge.
A few moments stick out for me as epitomising BBBR and Help for Heroes: two members of staff “accidentally” twerking in front of two fundraisers on a tandem bike; a first timer saying - while standing in torrential rain at the foot of Lion’s Mound: “I didn’t mean to say yes... but I’m loving every second and I already want to come again next year.” (he repeated this sentiment at the end of the week too!); the poignant ceremonies at Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries and hearing how Help for Heroes literally turned around the life of one of the Band of Brothers; and seeing staff riders eating the dust of beneficiaries on hand-bikes!
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