Words by Liz Morrell
Eighteen years ago this week, on October 5th, I lost my mum to breast cancer. I was 26 and as I looked for a way of coping with the grief, I decided to do a series of challenges in aid of various breast cancer charities.
One of these was a four-day bike ride in Amsterdam in aid of Breakthrough Breast Cancer. I talked my best friend Tina into the challenge, managed to blag a bike for the ride and somehow, with pretty much no structured training and no proper knowledge of how to actually ride, we completed the challenge and raised more than £5,000.
Although I did more fundraising events, I barely touched my bike again for the next 15 years or so until last year when I decided to take up road cycling. To give me something to aim for I signed up for the Great Weston Ride in aid of Prostate Cancer UK.
Last weekend I completed my hardest ride to date – a 100-mile ride with nearly 7,000 ft of climbing. Both the distance and climbing were new boundaries for me and as if that wasn't enough Mother Nature decided to throw all sorts of weather at us – including light drizzle, blazing sun and pouring rain. Nice.
But I had a secret energy reserve in stock. This was another charity ride – this time the Cotswold Autumn Classic in aid of Against Breast Cancer and with more than £300 of sponsorship in the bag and cycling club friends joining me en route, there was no way I wasn't going to finish and do something to once again honour my mum's memory.
Below are 7 reasons why you should get on your bike for charity:
You'll be spoilt for choice
Whether you're a novice rider or an experienced pro there are all sorts of rides to choose from road to mountain and everything in between.
But for those of you who are looking for a rather more exotic ride – and a bigger challenge – many charities also offer cycling-specific events such as Macmillan Cancer Support's Venice to Rome Cycle Challenge 2018. While the bigger rides have higher sponsorship targets, they really are the experience of a lifetime.
When I first started talking about taking part in this weekend's ride the response was mixed. Having witnessed me in tears on my only other 100-mile ride some of my cycling club buddies weren't so sure I was ready for what would be my hardest ride to date.
"But you may not enjoy it," they said, but when it comes to a charity ride, enjoying it isn't the point. Everyone around me knows that I love cycling. To ask for sponsorship means that I have to be seen to doing something new and challenging. Quite simply it has to be hard and it has to nearly break me because either way, I know i'll have the satisfaction of giving it my best shot finishing.
Honour someone you know or have lost
Whilst many sportives and cycling events have charity partners, for those riders that do choose to take up the sponsorship challenge, there is normally some personal connection, with either a friend or family member having been affected.
This not only makes raising sponsorship easier - since those around you will know how you've been personally impacted - but it also gives you the biggest motivation and ultimately thrill to actually complete the event to honour them. I called on my mum to help me a couple of times on the ride at the weekend and I swear she heard...
Raise money and awareness
I felt a little cheeky asking for sponsorship for my Against Breast Cancer ride - whilst my friends and family know my story they have also sponsored me time and time again.
But social media is a brilliant thing. A simple posting on Facebook with your online donation page means your friends and family can choose whether they want to sponsor you or not without you feeling like you are talking about nothing else. And every time I ask I'm always surprised by how generous people are. I've raised nearly four times what I expected. It really is a simple case of 'If you don't ask, you don't get'.
Set yourself a goal
It's easy to sign up for rides. But it's also as easy to back out of them too – either because you just don't feel ready, have decided it's not the weather for it or simply are not in the mood and just want to stay in bed.
But if you've committed to raising money for charity, suddenly it's not so easy to pull out. I deliberated about my First Great Western ride and Velothon Wales for ages until finally committing to raising money for Prostate Cancer UK. Suddenly, it wasn't just about me and meant I had to do my best even though I was almost sick with nerves on the actual morning of my first event. Knowing friends and family have entrusted you with their hard-earned cash really is a huge motivator.
Inspire others to do the same
As I've already said I'm astonished that despite the fact that I've asked time and time again friends and family still sponsor me. I remember talking to one friend about this and her answer was simple. "You do what we would like to do but don't get around to doing".
In other words, people want to help. They want to support their favourite charities – or those that their friends or family may have been affected by, but sometimes they simply may not have the time to do it themselves.
It might just change your life - or someone else’s
Ultimately this reason is the most compelling of all.
For me, my sponsored rides have enhanced my life. When my grief at losing my mum in my 20's was still very raw, events like the Amsterdam bike ride were an important part of working through that grief. The original Great Weston Ride I completed last year set off a new hobby and passion that has seen me lose weight, get healthier and fitter and led me full circle to another event to commemorate my mum 18 years after she died.
There is nothing more I can do for my mum but honour her memory, but for others, there is still hope. Whether it's supporting someone who is suffering, raising broader awareness or funding research, knowing that you are cycling not just for your pleasure but to potentially change someone else's life is the biggest reason of all to get on your bike for charity.