September 13, 2017, by David Greenaway

Nottingham Life Cycles – The Last Lap

With sixteen other riders I cycled Sustrans ‘Lochs and Glens’ last weekend. It was the final cycling challenge of the final Nottingham Life Cycle. It began in Inverness; 200 miles later and rather fittingly from my standpoint, it ended in Glasgow.

Life Cycle 7 has now raised £450,000 towards a target of £500,000 in support of the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre. We still have a number of major (non-cycling) events to come, including the Robin Hood Half Marathon on September 24th (where 400+ organised by Kevin Shakesheff will be running for LC7); the Superheroes Walk on University Park on October 1st; and the 70s/80s disco organised by Steve Wright at Kings Meadow Campus on December 16th. I am confident we will exceed the £500k target.

Nottingham Life Cycle began with a one off, has lasted seven years and raised more than £3 million in the process.

A good time then for some final reflections.

It all began when we were preparing to launch the Impact Campaign in autumn 2011. I did the obvious and made a substantial donation to help get things going. But I still felt I should somehow do more. I came up with the idea of cycling from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise funds for research on palliative and end of life care.

Once those around me realised this was not a delayed mid-life crisis but a serious proposition, I persuaded ten others they could also do it and we set about planning.

To put the challenge in perspective, I had not been on a road bike since my teens, when I was (literally) run over by an articulated lorry on Trent Bridge. (Fortunately the wheels went over my pelvis, which cracked in several places; a foot higher and I would not be writing this now).

And I was not the only one who had not been on a bike for decades. Yet we all completed the 1,000 miles+ challenge, raising £232,000 in the process.

It was genuinely intended to be a one off. But I was so taken by the extent of engagement in our University community more broadly that I began thinking about a second challenge, even as we were departing from Land’s End.

Six more have now followed, on increasingly demanding routes across the UK and Ireland, stretching to almost 1,400 miles in 15 days on two occasions. Importantly they involved an ever increasing number of cyclists (more than 600 on the LC6 Community Day last September). Even more importantly they involved an ever increasing number of non-cycling challenges and activities. These have included: (competitive) bake offs and cake sales across Schools and Departments; sponsored walks and runs; kayak challenges; auctions; gala balls and discos; magic shows. The level of commitment and engagement has been amazing. For me, it has been a source of pride to see so many of our staff, students and University partners support Life Cycle causes in such a diverse variety of ways.

Spontaneous generosity whilst on the road has been another memorable feature of the Life Cycles. More or less every time we stopped, on every day of every Life Cycle, we were engaged by someone who had been affected by stroke, or breast cancer, or a brain tumour. That invariably resulted in a donation there and then. There are so many encounters I could pick out. My most memorable was in a pub in Holsworthy in Devon on day 2 of LC6, when an elderly gentlemen saw our shirts, thanked us for what we were doing, opened his purse (which did not have much in it) and gave me £1. That donation meant as much as the biggest single donation I received that year (of £30,000).

The rides themselves have been physically and mentally demanding. Day after day in the saddle, and a sense of always being ‘on the clock’ when out of the saddle take their toll. It is exhausting, and sometimes painful. So much so that I can’t imagine that I would ever have been able to do it on my own. The shared nature of the endeavours made it possible. Cycling with people who have put their life on hold and their bodies on the line to make a difference for others is inspiring, and the shared laughter and tears ‘in the bubble’ the perfect analgesic.

Then there are the marvellous Support Teams who give up their time to plan, manage, console and lift riders, whilst at the same time keeping bikes roadworthy and safe. They too have been inspiring.

In addition to cycling, I had another day job, the daily blog. In a sense it was an unnecessary pressure. I could have just phoned in a report each day and have someone else ghost write it, or I could have just not bothered. Aside from the fact I always write my own blogs, it is clear to me from the number of comments and responses we received, and the reaction of the other riders that it added something. It was a way of sharing the experience more broadly, it was also a daily outlet for riders and the Support Team. For that alone it was worth all the late nights, early mornings, late departures, and late finishes.

It also means I have a permanent record of these journeys, and before too long the time to read them and reflect on what passed.

Finally, the research causes we cycled and raised £3 million for: palliative and end of life care; widening access to higher education; stroke rehabilitation; dementia; breast cancer; and children’s brain tumour research (twice) were highly motivating. They also became quite personal. For example on LC4 each cyclist rode in honour of a particular child, some of whom had survived a brain tumour, some had not, and one has not since then. We did something similar again on LC6 for many affected by breast cancer. And their families became directly involved in many different ways.

The impact of this on the Cycling Team and Support Team was palpable, motivating, but also very humbling.

The entire experience has been truly extraordinary. I and others have done things we would never have thought possible. I have discovered an activity I enjoy (most of the time!) and will continue doing; I have uncovered new frontiers of body and mind; and I have been enriched by many new companions and friends, friendships that will endure.

To everyone who has been part of this great project, thank you.

You have helped change the lives of many people for the better, in the process you have enriched our University, and you have changed my life.

Professor Sir David Greenaway


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