Team Work Is The Key To Keeping Charity Cyclists On The Road, Tim Dawson (2011)
Original article first published at thesundaytimes.co.uk in August 2011
As the B981 drops down towards the Firth of Forth, you turn a corner and suddenly the gargantuan rail bridge is revealed – a reclining dinosaur straddling the water. It provided me with a thrill of electrical intensity as the panorama of shimmering waves, Victorian engineering and distant Edinburgh flashed before me last month. I was within a few pedalstrokes of completing a 450 mile circumnavigation of Scotland and the sight of the giant, rust-red cantilevered structure caught in a sudden shaft of sunlight was transcendental.
I have ridden dozens of charity cycle rides and been touring on bikes for decades. What then was it about this tour of Scotland, ridden on behalf of Prostate Scotland, that was so uniquely satisfying? The answer, I think, might offer at least one way in which those seeking to raise money by organising charity bikes rides can refresh their offer and enrich the experience of participants.
I took part for the simple reason that I know the charity’s director – Adam Gaines, who many moons ago was my boss. He set up Prostate Scotland from a desk in his flat a couple of years ago – it now has a proper office, staff and runs an impressive program of awareness-raising about prostate cancer – a condition that affects one in twelve men at some point in their lives.
On occasional rides together, my friend and I discussed the feasibility of a publicity-generating and fund-raising ride on behalf of his organisation. My contribution did not go beyond agreeing that it would be a good idea and saying that I would join the ride, if time allowed.
Come the day of our departure, eight of us took part – of whom I had met only Adam before. Meeting up for the first time was daunting – not least because my partners on the road all looked as though they were in contention for Olympic selection. Nevertheless, as we set off north through Fife, we quickly fell into a pattern, riding in a disciplined line, taking turns on the front and waiting for each other when punctures and calls of nature demanded.
Scotland was a breathtakingly beautiful as ever, we were fairly lucky with the weather and our 70 miles a day was a comfortable and sustainable pace. But the real magic, for me, at least, was being a part of a team that was dedicated to ensuring that we all made it to the end. By the time I saw the Forth Bridge again, I felt that I was in the company of a new family, who looked out for me, and knew my foibles, as I knew theirs and tried to help them along.
On charity rides in the past, I have taken fund-raising reasonably seriously. The two or three thousand pounds that I have raised over the past few years is in no sense record breaking, but it certainly took quite a bit of effort. However, I never really engaged with the charities on whose behalf I rattled the can, nor I suspect, have those of my friends who have been kind enough to support me.
The Scottish circumnavigation was different. We called in on Maggie’s Centre in Inverness and met staff who are involved in a prostate support group there. And when we arrived back at Edinburgh’s Western General, we were cheered home by a crowd of clinicians, hospital managers and supporters of the charity. It was a humbling experience, particularly as I felt that I had done nothing more heroic that enjoyed a week’s cycling holiday.
And as well as giving me a more profound sense of what it was all in aid of, it was also useful to generate press publicity in papers the length and breadth of Scotland, bringing the charity’s work to wider attention and more importantly reminding men that early diagnosis is the key to avoiding potentially fatal prostate problems.
It is for others to assess whether the considerable task of organising our excursion delivered sufficient for Prostate Scotland to make it worthwhile as a regular event. As a participant, I have no hesitation in saying that it was an exceptional experience. If I thought that I could enjoy something similar again, I would sign up to a week’s ‘charity work’ every July – and encourage anyone else who enjoys riding a bike to do the same.
TD Aug 11