I got goose pimples the second I arrived at Blackheath yesterday, for the start of our London to Paris cycle ride, partly because it was surprisingly cold at 7am but mainly because the sight of so many people wearing our kit and preparing for an unforgettable experience was awesome.
It’s also awesome that so many people are willing and able to ride for 460km to raise money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
I searched the crowd for a familiar face and I was surprised by just how many people I recognised and enjoyed hugs and reunions and updates. There was a dad from our Disney trip two years ago whose son continues to do really well following treatment for leukaemia; there was Geoff Thomas’s good friend and fellow patient Graham Silk who is passionately fighting for patients rights; there was our leading light campaigner Dom Goggins and his friend Graham, who are dedicated to raising money in memory of Graham’s son, and Dom’s close friend Steven who tragically didn’t survive leukaemia. Also amongst the crowd were two LLR Trustees, Jeremy Bird, who until recently was Group Retail Chairman for Travis Perkins and who has been an instrumental part of the incredible team at Wickes - who have raised £3 million over the last few years - and John Reeve.
John’s passion is written all over his face and when I downloaded my photos quickly taken on the day, I had to pause at the photo of John, the pain, the determination, the excitement, the anticipation and the pride were written all over his face. John is cycling with his son, Dan, in memory of John’s son Tim who tragically died from leukaemia in 2005 aged just 23. Ever since then John has committed himself to doing all that he can to ensure other families don’t have to go through what he and his family had to experience. There is no doubt that he is here to change the world and he’s doing just that.
These are some of the reasons why John, pictured above with his son, Dan, decided to cycle from London to Paris:
"I'm riding to Paris for lots of reasons.
For Lynn who lost her eldest son Neal to acute leukaemia but never stops helping other people. For Amanda, who's a survivor but at 16 has already had two joint replacements because of the side-effects of the poisons that saved her life. For all the 130,000 people living with a blood cancer in the UK and the newly diagnosed - one every 20 minutes - who are coming to terms with their dread. I'm riding because people who know about these things tell me that we are on the verge of a break-through.
I'm riding because I celebrated my 60th birthday in April and want to prove to myself that I can still do it. Cycling up the Champs Elysee with 200 other LLR riders will be amazing. I'm riding for Tim, our younger son, who was so brave. The tough times of my ride will be nothing compared to the pain and torment he went through. Every penny will help to save a life and give more young people the chance to make their dreams come true."
The reason I was there in the first place was to make a brief speech to send the riders on their way at the start, and I hadn’t really decided what I was going to say alongside our Chairman of Fundraising Alastair Campbell and the most courageous man I know Geoff Thomas, but as soon as I saw John there was only really one thing I could say:
“Thanks to you we are here to stop people dying from blood cancer, to make people’s lives better and to stop people getting blood cancer in the first place. You all have your own stories for doing this ride and you’re going to have an amazing time, but on the tougher bits when you have to dig just a bit deeper, remember our LLR story and especially our belief. 'Life is a gift. Use it wisely and live it fiercely.'”
And as I watched them all cycle past in to the distance, I’ve never felt more like Cinderella leaving the ball too early in my life.