Ben was one of our Ride For A Roof cyclists, he was also Bally's strength and conditioning coach whilst she was recovering from injury and was part of the team that helped get her back to the top of her game. Ben is also a valued EBAT trustee. This are his highlights (and low points!) of the epic 350 mile journey.
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The build up:
For me the build up started with a conversation with Steve in January 2015 when we agreed to try to do a cycling event together, we felt as trustees we needed to do something to make an impact and raise money for EBAT for many reasons. On a personal level training for this task helped me find a way to channel my emotions and gain clarity in my mind about how I could support the foundation and, as I live in Surrey I wanted to make sure I was making a difference to the academy in Ipswich. Steve came across (and so he would prove to be) as a man of drive, action with a no nonsense approach. The idea for the challenge was agreed and the wheels had been metaphorically set in motion. My next two most important calls were placed to Nino to clarify our thoughts about the challenge and then to Alasdair to ask if he could manage and lead looking after Steve and I medically on the ride.
The support team:
During the ride it cannot be underestimated how much we relied on the support team. I was very fortunate to have my father (Richard Haining) take the time to be the second support vehicle and logistics man. He is a very good driver, an expert on everything to do with navigating/negotiating London and importantly having someone who knows me inside out was really reassuring particularly during the challenging moments. I also knew he would be a great support to Steve and the other guys and girls in the team, so I was delighted he was with us for the duration of the challenge. As expected, he was a brilliant support to all!
Perhaps the most special element of the challenge was getting the opportunity to share it with my great friend Nino. I stayed with him the night before the ride and it was great to have him with us on the first leg from Ipswich to Queens. It was magic to have him and his electric blue Fiat 500 as support vehicle number three (almost like the thunderbirds!)
Heidi and I had never met prior to the Friday morning of the ride but bless her she had had to put up with numerous phone calls from me prior to it! She did brilliantly well during the challenge, driving he main support van with aplomb in all conditions and traffic situations. In addition she sorted two excellent hotels and found the magnificent Jane in Eastbourne who's generosity was truly inspirational. Heidi is clearly an invaluable member of the EBAT team and future and I hope she enjoyed the challenge with us.
Alasdair was nothing short of incredible from start to finish, whether using his magic hands and physio/medical knowledge to patch Steve and I back together, adjusting and interpreting the route or optimising our safety and recovery and being the mobile marshal, he was a relentless professional and great friend throughout. I was overwhelmed with how hard he worked and the amount of selfless hours of support he gave us to make our riding experience more manageable.
Picture: The Ride For A Roof team - From left to right - Richard, Ben, Heidi, Steve and Alasdair.
The ride was a different challenge each day, day one was the longest in terms of distance (starting in Ipswich) and most challenging logistically as we hit London during a tube strike and rush hour. The first 120 km were fast, although Steve and I got lost in Essex and had to be recovered in a pub by the team. I must mention my friend and colleague at Reed's School-Anthony Talbot who designed our routes and programmed the Garmin navigation on my bike. For the most part this worked well but often we changed the plan/got lost! The ride into London was a challenge to say the least, temperatures approaching 30 degrees, crazy traffic, getting separated for a couple of hours from the support vehicles and losing the sat nav as the batteries died! That said we managed to get to Queens at a more than respectable hour!
Day two was the day that nearly broke me... The initial phase speeding out of south west London was relatively simple but the hills on the way to Eastbourne were brutal. We rode well but personally as the hours and hills clocked up my legs started to seize with the lactic build up. Steve the lighter and better climber helped drag me through but at times we agreed I would set the pace up the climbs or there was a danger I would blow up trying to keep Steve's pace. This was tough for both of us but we got through and the ride into Eastbourne in the sunshine where we emptied the tanks was an awesome finish to the day.
Day three posed the challenge of wet weather and fast speeding traffic on faster, flatter and smoother roads but Steve and I could see the finish in sight and we rode our quickest and arrived at Wimbledon ahead of schedule!
Picture: Ben and Steve cruising through the Essex countryside.
There were so many but the following stood out:
- The blast down the embankment, past, Big Ben and the London Eye with all of the crazy cyclist commuters was a great rush.
- Getting to the top of the steepest climb in the Ashdown Forest was a huge relief, I was glad to share that moment with my dad at the top and celebrate with a Powerade!
- The recovery compression boots and hours treatment to loosen my neck each night from Alasdair was a key memory.
- Riding between the two support vehicles in London traffic felt like being in the Tour de France!
- Spending evenings eating my body weight in food and chatting with the team were special moments.
- The support and interviews with CNN were great motivation to keep pushing and remembering the importance of the event and why we need to keep working hard to keep the EBAT work and name high profile and moving forwards.
- The final ride down to Gate 5 at Wimbledon and sharing a quite moment just with Steve where we shared two private and important memories about our great friend Bally before we finished the ride.
- The climbs on day two to Eastbourne were exhausting-and pushed me to the limit.
- Riding into central London in the middle of four lanes of traffic all doing 50 miles per hour around us was seriously scary!
- Getting on the bikes on the third morning-feeling very sore was tough mentally!
Picture: Ben receiving some much needed neck treatment from Alasdair.
Feelings at the end:
To complete the challenge was a great relief. I was so pleased to have finished the ride and so impressed with how resilient and tough my team mate Steve had been as we battled through. On a personal level I hope to continue to keep training and get even fitter. I want to say a big thanks to all of the support team and everyone to do with the Foundation including Jamie and Louise who supported us throughout the ride.
On a final note I wanted to add that we miss Bally every day but that we will keep her vision and memory alive and I hope this event will help the young players of EBAT enjoy tennis under a shiny new bubble roof!
Picture: A very soggy Ben and Steve in the Ashdown Forest.
Inspired by Ben's story? Show your support for Ride For A Roof and EBAT by making a donation here: https://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/elenabaltachafoundation/rideforaroof/
To see the full gallery of images visit the Ride For A Roof website.