Michael grew up in Sydenham and was aware of St Christopher’s, but it wasn’t until 2010 when his mum came to the hospice that he really came to understand the work that the hospice does.
“Actually seeing what goes on in there, first hand, is life changing”, said Michael. “Ever since Mum passed away I’ve tried to get involved with anything that I can and London to Amsterdam is another chance to show my support for what St Christopher’s does.
When Mum was diagnosed with breast, lung and brain cancer in 2007, she went through all the treatments available and reached the stage where we were hearing the words, ‘palliative care’. She was having a bad time at home and had been in and out of hospital, which she hated. Eventually, she refused to be taken to hospital and she spoke to the paramedics and asked just to be left at home to die. But they gave her one more option: St Christopher’s. Her eyes lit up.
That was the first of multiple stays she had at the hospice. It got to the point where she would argue with the ambulance crews to call St Christopher’s and get her in there, rather than going to hospital, because if the hospice couldn’t take care of her she wasn’t going anywhere.
There’s just something so personal about St Christopher’s that just makes you feel comfortable. The whole experience of walking into St Christopher’s puts your mind at rest and to know that she was being looked after gave me respite after looking after her for three and half years. It gave me the care I needed while I was caring for her.
London to Amsterdam is a great opportunity to raise a decent amount of money, but it’s also a fantastic chance to take on a proper riding test, to do something I haven’t done before. It’s great for my mental health and it’s also something to stroke my ego a little bit.
Cycling plays a big part in helping me keep mentally healthy. Over the last year I cycled 300 out of the 365 days available and that helps me to keep on top of how I’m feeling; being off the bike through illness or injury means that my mental health goes on a slight decline. You sort of, curl back up into your shell a bit because you’re not out there doing what you want to do.
London the Amsterdam, for me personally, is an opportunity to see how far I can push myself. I’ve never done anything of this duration before. I’ve done a few one hundred mile rides, but never something quite to this extent, or in a group. Usually I’m quite a solitary rider, but I know that there can be some therapeutic benefit that comes from riding in a group. So, for me this could be a stepping stone to getting more involved in club rides.
I think other people on the ride will find it interesting. I think they’ll discover something about themselves, particularly if they haven’t done a ride of that length before. You learn about yourself when you have to knuckle down to a task and get on with it. It can be a real mind over matter thing to keep going, especially when the conditions are hard. Fortunately, Amsterdam is relatively flat, so after the first day it should be quite nice!
The science behind it is the release of endorphins, but you mix the science with the simplicity of seeing new places, fresh air and actually getting your heart rate up and once you’re riding a bike that becomes your focus. You can sort of throw everything else away for a while.”
In preparation for the cycle Michael has challenged himself to do as much riding as possible. “In previous years, I’ve done two or three thousand miles a year. I’ve upped it this year by cycling on my commute, getting a trainer for the gym and spending more time on Zwift [a cycling, running and training game].
London the Amsterdam, for me personally, is an opportunity to see how far I can push myself
I’m just trying to do as many events as I can and as many 100km rides as I can, so far I’ve managed one every month. I started training before I even signed up, but I haven’t got much experience of cycling on back to back days. I want to leave the back to back element as the aspect that I’ll need to overcome. I want the achievement of that to be something that I experience when I’m there.
If you’re just starting out with your training then there’s no substitute for time in the saddle. Ride a few times a week – maybe an hour – nothing mega challenging, get a couple of gentle hills in to get the muscles used to it. Cycling uses completely different muscles to running and walking and once you start getting the cycling muscles involved, they grow really quickly. No one has to go out and do hundreds and hundreds of miles; if you can get to the stage of doing 20 or 30 miles comfortably; that, in a group, with organised rests should prepare you for the challenge. Just don’t leave it till the last minute!
The other important thing, I would say, is to get your bike ready for you. Make sure you’re comfortable spending a long time in the saddle. Getting a bike fit can be expensive, but really worthwhile if you’re finding yourself getting unusual aches and pains. It’s definitely cheaper than paying for months of physio afterwards.”
For some, fundraising is the toughest part of a challenge like London to Amsterdam. The amount you need to raise can seem intimidating, but Michael explained how he went about it.
“I’ve had some good advice from the Fundraising Team at St Christopher’s. I did a raffle with donations from companies like Proviz and Wiggle who do bike trainers. Just a quick tweet about what I was raising money for and they were really generous. It was nice to be able to give people something back if they were willing to give money to support me and easy to explain to why I was raising money and what for.
I’ve done a couple of bucket collections as well. One at London Bridge and the other at Bromley South and to be honest – combined – they haven’t raised as much as the raffle, but they’ve been far more rewarding. The strange part about it is that while I was standing out there in the cold, with my bucket and wearing my St Christopher’s tabard, to have people approach me to give money because they’ve had a loved one cared for at St Christopher’s and to hear that snap story – ‘you looked after my father in his final months’ – there’s such a connection there because you’re both in it together for that moment. For me, that moment, one-to-one is the most rewarding thing.
St Christopher’s is a place that is so worthy of spending time to raise money for. When Mum’s journey with the hospice was finished I wanted to make sure that I could somehow give something back. Volunteering isn’t a possibility for me, but London to Amsterdam is a substantial way that I can make a difference.”