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I cycled the Pyrenees with the Peaky Climbers to fight IPF

Paul and his friends took on the intense 7 day, 20-peak challenge King of the Mountains challenge in memory of his mum, who had IPF. 

In 2005, my mother was diagnosed with IPF, or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. She died just 2 years later. It’s been over 10 years since then, but we’re still no closer to finding a cure for this disease.

I had to do something to help.

I wanted to take on a big challenge

On the 10th anniversary of her death, I wanted to do something different - something that would get people's attention and make them say 'wow'! 

"At 7 days and over 20 peaks, it completely fitted the bill as the challenge of a lifetime."

I remembered how I'd watched the Tour de France on the TV when I was younger. It really stuck with me. So, when I visited the Pyrenees years later with my wife and children, I vowed that someday, despite being far from a seasoned cyclist, I’d ride up the Col de Tourmalet. 

At 7 days and over 20 peaks spread across 700km, with 23,000m of elevation - the same as cycling up Everest 2.25 times - the King of the Mountains completely fitted the bill as the challenge of a lifetime.

I decided I was going to do it, in memory of my mum, and to raise money to help fight IPF.

The birth of the Peaky Climbers

Not long after, one summer’s evening in Denchworth’s Fox pub, my carefully selected 'team' and I decided that we’d take on the challenge together! And after pondering long and hard about possible names, we finally opted for the Peaky Climbers (from one of our favourite TV programmes, Peaky Blinders!)

"Every time we passed a fundraising milestone, it felt euphoric."

We were absolutely, 100% committed to hitting our target of £30,000. That meant we worked around the clock training and fundraising - as well as our full-time jobs!

But it was all worth it. Every time we passed a fundraising milestone, from the first thousand up to an amazing £20k, it felt euphoric.

We had so much support

So many people wanted to help out, from our friends and family to the corporate sponsors we’d brought on board – thank you Clive and Sam from Bellwood Projects, and Steve Aram and Suzanne Dalgleigh from VTech Systems!

We also threw special fundraising events, like an Après Ski party in January, which saw the team at the BLF come down, along with 350 other people. That alone raised over £13,000! It was an incredible feeling.

The day itself came

Finally, the week itself was upon us.

The 8 of us flew to France the day before, and were met at the airport by our 2 drivers. They'd be following us in their vans throughout the whole ride, which was fortunate as the weather was shocking and we needed fresh cycle clothes on several occasions!

We headed off to our first accommodation and spent the night putting our bikes together, which had been disassembled for the plane. 

Then, we woke up and hit the first mountain. We were all so excited. 

The first mountain

The first few minutes on my bike were very emotional for me. After 18 months of planning, a year of training, and of course, the memory of my mum who died from a lung disease, I was finally here. I shed a tear when I started, that's for sure. 

There were some amazing moments that I'll never forget. Conquering our first peak, Hautacam, was incredible. It's such a tough climb that it's actually ungraded! 

"After 18 months of planning, a year of training, and of course, the memory of my mum who died from a lung disease, I was finally here."

Or there was the second peak, the following day, where we did the final 3km in a foot of snow, with a plough driving ahead of us clearing the road! All the locals in their cars couldn't believe their eyes, and kept telling us we were crazy - that was fantastic. 

Day 4 was phenomenal. Mont Ventoux is a really famous mountain in the Tour De France, where the final few kilometres are like a moonscape. We cycled the 3 ascents in one day, which is really rare - only about 15,000 people in the world have ever done it! It felt really special.

Crossing the finish line

And then the last day, all our friends were waiting for us at the foot of the village before we climbed Alpe d’Huez. When we arrived, there were lots of tears, and hugs, and happiness.  Finally, we ascended back up the Alpe d'Huez, but this time with all our friends and family following us, cheering us on from every hairpin turn. I'll never forget it. 

"It was an incredible feeling knowing 8 regular guys had accomplished something so crackers."

Crossing the finish line was so emotional for me. I gave a speech not long after finishing, and was in tears - I could barely talk (or walk)! It was just an incredible feeling knowing we'd accomplished something so crazy.

Considering that we're not budding cyclists, just regular guys, to do what we'd done in 7 days was amazing. I'm so proud of us all. 

We wrote a book

Paul and his mum

Now it's all over, I'm happy to say that we didn’t just hit our target, we doubled it! We've achieved over £62,000 to date. And it’s all thanks to the kind, wonderful and supportive donations from people all over the UK.

After the challenge was over, I was reflecting on the experience. I thought, why not capture it all in print? I decided to write a book about the Peaky Climbers challenge, and donate 100% of the profits to charity. You can pick up your own copy on the Peaky Climbers website, or buy it for Kindle on Amazon.

The whole thing has just been amazing. We're all so happy and proud to have achieved what we have, and I know my mum would be proud too.

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21 January 2019