Many people have asked me what makes AngelRide and the Hole in The Wall Gang Hospital Outreach Program (HITWG – HOP) so special, what is it that brings riders back year after year. I think I might finally have my answer.
Dear sponsorship providers, supporters, encouragers and worriers: Angel Ride 2014 is complete!
AngelRide 2014 was such an inspiring experience, I just had to share. I can only imagine what 2015 will bring.
Day One: Beginnings
With overcast skies and drying roads, Day One was on! Angel Riders from across the US and the world busied themselves getting ready, fiddling with tire pressure, water bottles, riding gear, food and rider numbers. I also had the privilege of supporting a couple of first year VIP Angel Riders, who had made the long trek to be at the start, more on this later!
Reality hit me as I headed out of the Yale School of Music: I was about to take on the single longest ride of my life while climbing close to 6000 feet of elevation over the 87 miles of day one.
I was greeted at the lunch stop in East Windsor by my #1 support crew – my wife Pam, my son Jack, my daughter Marni, and my parents. They were rattling cow bells and making as much noise as possible for each rider that came into the lunch stop. 50 miles completed.
The run to the finish of Day One challenged me to my core.
I had been warned by my Covidien CT Cares teammates that the climb from the last rest stop was the nemesis of all those who accept the Angel Ride challenge. Steep and unforgiving, this climb preys on the riders who have given everything to get this far. At no point in the ride thus far had I contemplated walking a hill, but I admit that if I could have unclipped from my pedals without falling off, I would have walked. By the time I crested the climb I was convinced that something was mechanically wrong with my bike because of the effort required to turn the pedals.
The last 18 miles of the day was an exercise in determination and willpower. Slight uphill grades made my legs feel like lead, and any headwind felt like a howling gale.
Nothing can prepare you for the emotional roller coaster when you finally pass through the gates and under the Hole in the Wall Gang arch that leads into Camp. You ride over a causeway bridge lined with the faces of the children who have attended the camp, and then it hits you. You realize again the importance of why you are riding. These children who are suffering with a serious illness don’t train for long stays in a hospital; they don’t have time to prepare for the journey ahead, they simply face the disease head on and never stop climbing. 87 miles completed.
I mentioned the VIP riders above. I’d like to introduce you all to Greig Trout, a British guy with a story to tell and a mission to help change the lives of others!
Greig beat cancer as a child and, as an adult, beat bowel cancer. He had set up 101 things to do when you survive (you don’t even have to Google it, I did it for you), and through selling everything he owned and saving everything he could, Greig decided to set off around the world to raise awareness that there is life after cancer.
He was looking for challenges—random challenges from those who followed his path around the world. So, naturally, I challenged him to complete the Angel Ride and help to change the life of a sick child. Greig graciously accepted.
He was initially set to ride in Angel Ride 2015, but with 4 weeks to go I received and email from Greig who at the time was somewhere in the depths of Argentina, asking if he could change plans and ride this year. He would fly in and experience AngelRide before continuing his around the world adventure, his brother Barry would fly in from the UK to join, and their Mum would make the transatlantic flight to join AngelRide as a volunteer.
Not only has Greig beaten cancer twice, he also has a couple of additional factors to take into consideration: one kidney, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) that restricts blood flow back to the heart from the legs….and he hadn’t ridden a bike in 25 years! Nothing like stacking the odds in your favor!!
Greig and Barry both completed Day One without walking a single hill and without using the services of the Support and Gear (SAG) wagon to take them to the next rest stop. The route has 6000ft of elevation change within 87 miles. They were an inspiration to each and every AngelRider. The takeaway—drive, determination and shear willpower knows no bounds.
Day Two: Ashford to Mystic.
I had the privilege to complete Day Two in the company of Greig and Barry. I watched Greig dig deep into the mental reserves to push through Day One’s toll. He never complained—not once. He just went about engineering a way to ensure that he finished AngelRide 2014. Just as on Day One, neither Greig nor Barry walked any of the hills or used the SAG team services. 53 miles completed.
Both riders completed the entire 140 miles, and climbed 9000ft of hills.
Many people have asked me what makes AngelRide and the Hole in The Wall Gang Hospital Outreach® Program (HITWG – HOP) so special, what is it that brings riders back year after year. I think I might finally have my answer.
The reward for a rider is being able to experience the sense of accomplishment as you pass under the HITWG arch on the entrance to camp or crossing the finish line in Mystic. It’s seeing the faces of the children whose lives have been changed by something you were a part of one year before; it’s knowing that we (the team) are helping to change the life of the next sick child who comes under the care and support of the HOP team. Children deserve the chance to simply be children, regardless of any illness.
The reward for 140 hard miles on a bicycle is such an emotional roller coaster, you cannot imagine! To be honest, the effort to ride 140 miles on a bicycle pales in comparison to the effort each child puts into beating their illness.
AngelRide 2014 was memorable for lots of different reasons: supportive volunteers who look after each rider at every rest stop, the Moto Crew and SAG teams for making sure everyone is safe on the route, fellow riders who support each other over every mile, and the inspirational ride by Greig and his brother on day one and two.
But all of you reading this are also part of the AngelRide team. You help to make it memorable each year, through your generosity you help to change the life of a sick child. You make the magic materialize, without your support none of this would happen.
Walk tall and smile, you have changed the life of a sick child.
Now you know why….
I leave you with the following quote:
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
– Muhammad Ali
Thank you for everything, and Never Stop Climbing!
– Andy Heeps