I am one of ATE’s six trustees, as well as a cancer- and stroke-survivor, with a big cycle challenge ahead of me. It will be an epic ride for me, cycling the length of Ireland from its most Southern to its most Northern tip. This is the story of how I arrived at making this journey.
The London 2012 Olympics were memorable for many reasons – the great international performances, the GB team in particular, and it was when I was diagnosed with lung cancer. After a variety of tests, an eagle-eyed X-ray specialist noticed a small lesion on my left lung. I had surgery and chemotherapy, and it was also discovered I had atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat which increases the probability of stroke. Despite this, in 2015, I wanted to celebrate my recovery from cancer, and decided that cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats would prove that I was as fit and well as before. My two cycling buddies Steve Tippins and Charles Gardner helped me to achieve that goal. We cycled about 1,000 miles in 13 days! As Charles had recently founded Action Through Enterprise (ATE), which does fantastic work to reduce poverty in Ghana, we did this incredible big ride whilst raising money for both MacMillan Cancer Trust and ATE. I felt absolutely marvellous!
Unfortunately I suffered a severe stroke in late November 2015. I don’t remember much about it; my right hand side was badly affected as was my speech – I could only say yes or no, and I didn’t always get them right! This was bad enough, but I was due to walk my daughter, Sophie down the aisle in late December and that looked unlikely at this point. After a week in the Great Western Hopsital, and a further two weeks in the stroke rehabilitation unit at Chippenham I came home, walking with the aid of a zimmer frame. The physios were wonderful, as were the occupational and speech therapists, knowing that I had this goal to achieve, and I did manage to walk Sophie down the aisle with just one stick, much more of an achievement than I anticipated!
My family and friends were also marvellous, visiting when I could barely speak, helping with the speech exercises and generally keeping my spirits up. Unlike my recovery from cancer, stroke recovery is much slower, and not just physical. It involves retraining the affected parts of the brain, regaining mobility and practising everyday activities such as doing up your buttons. Fortunately I am a positive (some would say stubborn) character, and was determined to get back on my bike and somehow give back a little.
During the process of my recovery, I have also become really involved with ATE, becoming an active trustee of the charity since October 2016 and fully in support of the work we do to improve lives in a very poor, neglected part of the Upper West Region of Ghana. I am inspired by another of its founders, Charles’ daughter, ATE Chief Executive, Sarah Albeboure, who whilst volunteering in Ghana, became motivated to do more for the people of Lawra. Six years on from setting up the charity, ATE feeds just over 1,000 children each school day, as well as supporting small business owners to generate sustainable income and improve inclusion for marginalised disabled children and their families.
Steve Tippins got me back on my bike, and we are cycling from the South (Mizen Head) to the North (Malin Head) of Ireland, 500 miles in 6 days this time. Combining my love of cycling and passion for supporting two charities that I believe in, I am going to cycle for Action Through Enterprise, who are changing lives in Ghana, and for the Stroke Association who guided me and cared for me when I needed them.
It would spur me on to be sponsored every bit of the way!
Please visit my fundraising page and help me reach my target: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/peterwilletts1
So, on 16th September I am going to Ireland. Look out for my weekly blog of my progress in training rides until then, and daily blog posts when I am cycling the fantastic route from the south to the north of the country.