Meet the team...
The team who took part in Cycle India 2012
From left, Dave Blakeman, John Goldie, Adrian Shephard, Matthew Glover, Zoe Smith, Amanda Smith, Jem King, Vijith Puthi, Mike Henchy, Verina Henchy, Emily Young, Marion Richardson, Steve Garrett, Dr Koneru Prasad, Rajendra Sarva, Lucy Petrie, Ram Yadav; (front) Grace Shephard, Anita Rao, Julie Constance and Ann Cripps. Missing: Peter Tantrum.
A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE
CYCLE INDIA 2012 was a truly memorable event for the 23 cyclists, who came together from England, Scotland, Wales, India and the United States.
Here are some of their reflections on the trip of a lifetime...
Home town: Leeds
Occupation: Business manager with Ford Motor Company
"I GOT involved with HEAL/Cycle India in 2007 through my long-time friend Matthew Glover who is the head of fundraising with the charity. I’ve known Matthew since we were 11 and I was easily persuaded once he outlined to me the aims of the charity and the purpose of the first Cycle India in 2008.
The 2012 event in Kerala has been the most enjoyable of the three Cycle India events I have participated in. It was challenging enough, without it being intimidating, and the organisation by Kalypso was professional and thorough, the best yet! There was a great camaraderie amongst all the participants, regardless of age, ability and background and there really was a ‘team’ atmosphere where we all felt we were ‘in it together’. The outpouring of emotion by many when the cycling was concluded on Day 5 was testament to how much the previous few days had touched everybody.
The trip culminated in our visit to the Childrens’ Village in Guntur over two days. This allowed everyone to witness first-hand where all their hard-earned sponsorship money was going, and who was going to benefit. It was great to mingle with the children and experience their enthusiasm, energy and love. It was enjoyable and emotional.
Everyone who was fortunate enough to participate in Cycle India 2012 has been left with memories of a life-changing experience. All of us are able to relate to each other's feelings and thoughts and, as such, I am sure the feelings of friendship amongst us will last a long time."
Age: 62 - the oldest cyclist and proud of it!
Home town: St Albans
Occupation: University lecturer and a nurse acupuncturist.
"I'VE known [HEAL's founder] Prasad for several years as we both belong to the British Medical Acupuncture Society; indeed, we both sit on council, so I have also known about HEAL and a bit about what it does.
How did I get to cycle? Well, last year, in January, I looked at the year ahead and thought 'another one just the same - I need a challenge'. I had already decided to donate the money I had not spent on sending Christmas cards to HEAL and when I went onto the website to do so, there was my challenge, sitting there waiting for me.
I hadn't been on a bike for about 15 years and then I had only been to the park with the kids, but I went to the shed and pulled it out - covered in spiders and cobwebs and tyres not just flat, but completely perished. Two days later, after a bit of repair and maintenance I went for a tentative ride round the block. And gradually over the year, I built up my stamina and strength and speed, found wonderful cycling routes, loved being out in all weathers, watching the seasons change and spotting the wildlife. I did most of my training on my own and, though I am not really a solitary soul, I loved it. I wasn't sure I was ready for India and I worried that I would be too slow and hold everyone up or wouldn't be able to do the hills and would feel disappointed. No need to have worried at all. Cycle India 2012 was utterly amazing in so many, many ways.
The camaraderie of the team was amazing - everyone thrilled for each other's personal successes - and though I pushed myself close to the limit on some of the hills, I found that the mind really is a powerful place and can get you through things you would never think yourself capable of. I can say that I fulfilled the cycling challenge I set myself but I also had the challenge of raising money and found I had to keep raising my target as friends, family and acquaintances supported me so generously - they all thought I was completely mad!
My lasting memories? Peanut brittle stops along the way to keep up our energy levels, villagers turning out wherever we went to stare or wave or cheer us on; the overwhelming welcome we received from the children at HEAL village (tears running down my face); seeing the beginnings of HEAL Paradise growing in such a beautiful place and recognising the strength of the belief in this project and the tireless work that is making it happen; the friendships I've made; the depths and heights of emotions I experienced. I've been exhilarated and exhausted, astonished, humbled, excited, delighted - so many things. I've laughed until I cried and shared that laughter with all my fellow cyclists and the wonderful staff and children of HEAL."
Occupation: Teacher (I left my job as head of science in a Sheffield school to help HEAL for a year).
"HAVING spent six weeks before Christmas in India I was very excited to return, but with real trepidation about the physical challenge ahead. Never a sportsperson, I honestly thought I could never do it. I had done very little training and in any sport I have ever done I have always struggled. Somewhere deep inside me, though, I found an inner strength which got me through the ride with utter joy. The jubilation I felt when I completed the big third day was like nothing I had felt before.
However, despite the wonderful time I had whilst riding, the jewel in the crown of the trip was the visit to Andhra Pradesh visiting the Children's Village in Guntur and Kanuru School in Vijayawada. Seeing the massive impact that HEAL has on the lives of so many children moved me deeply and makes me all the more determined to support HEAL in any way possible. I am very keen to whip up a whirl of enthusiasm in the team to maximise the enthusiasm and energy we all have now got for HEAL.
I have made some wonderful friends on this trip, ones I will always treasure. To meet people with such good hearts is a true privilege."
Home town: New Mills, Derbyshire
Occupation: Business owner/entrepreneur.
"I HEARD about HEAL from Matthew Glover, owner of Conservatory Outlet (one of our customers). Cycle India was a life-changing experience. Although I have travelled widely in Europe and the US, nothing could have prepared me for India. The trip was in two phases: five days of cycling through the countryside of Kerala, followed by three days of fundraising and visits to the various HEAL sites.
The cycling was a continual blast of new sights, sounds, smells and experiences, varying from the hustle and bustle of major towns to the almost perfect silence of the upper hills. Everywhere we went we received a friendly reception, with the smiles of the people we passed or met etched deep in my memory.
The visits were incredibly moving. Many of the kids we met were orphans or from 'poverty trap' families. Thanks to HEAL, in spite of these difficulties, they were in full-time education and receiving regular nutritious meals. As we talked to them it became clear that they had aims to make a difference in life. When asked what they’d like to do, many of them answered “engineer”, “nurse”, “teacher” or “scientist”, so they clearly realise that they have the ability (through education) to become something they would probably never have dreamed of. We made several visits to various organisations to say “thanks” to local donors, and this was a fascinating insight into Indian culture which few tourists would ever get chance to see. We were even invited into an engineering works to see massive components being manufactured.
One of the most moving parts of the trip was when we visited one of the rural 'slums' near to the school. We were invited into one of the houses and the thing which struck me was how little the owners possessed. This was one of the 'better' houses – it had electricity, one light bulb and a TV with a satellite dish. No fridge or any other appliances. The whole building (made of a timber frame covered with palm leaves) was no more than 10 foot square and housed a family of four. It was also immaculately clean (given the circumstances). The latrine was simply a hole in the ground and there was no running water available nearby.
The team which formed over the few days was amazing, with people supporting each other and a very close sense of camaraderie. A lot of laughing and a few tears. I suspect that some lifelong friendships may have begun on this trip!"
"WHAT an amazing trip that was honestly unlike any other trip I have ever had. The camaraderie was incredible, the people inspirational and the feeling of euphoria impossible to describe.
My emotion after climbing 'that' hill on Day 3 was incredible and made all the better by being able to share it with such wonderful people. Personally, it was amazing to step out of the ordinary to do something extraordinary. I am a 38-year-old nurse, wife and mother of two and I have never done anything like this before.
In June 2011 I bought a bike and decided to prepare for the challenge of Cycle India. Looking back, I did nowhere near enough training but the team spirit, the feeling of doing something worthwhile and the inspiration of HEAL pulled me though. To be surrounded by people such as Prasad and Matthew makes me realise that anything is possible. They are true visionaries. I now plan to sponsor a child in India and hope to see that child grow and flourish under the nurturing umbrella of HEAL.I will visit the Children's Village again and I am definitely keen to be part of Cycle India 2014!"
"I CAME to HEAL through Julie Constance and when she decided to do Cycle India again she asked me if I wanted to come too. I was undecided for ages and not sure I could get fit enough but with my kids getting older and more independent I was ready for a challenge.
The charity appealed to me as well and again Julie had good things to say about it. I enjoyed the preparation for the trip and have discovered biking in the Dales nearby (good preparation for the hills).
I was not prepared for the experience itself which was just fantastic. What a great way to see India and its countryside and people. By Day 4 I felt I could bike every day for a long time and was sad to stop. I enjoyed the companionship and friendship of the group and the trip to visit Paradise Village was inspiring.
What will remain with me a long time is the visit to the HEAL Village - turning the corner and seeing all the children waiting to greet us was overwhelming and then being shown around so spontaneously by different children and realising the warmth and closeness of their life together. It was a magical couple of days that I feel privileged to have shared. Needless to say I plan to return in 2014 and my sister is keen to come as well."
Home town: Warminster, Wiltshire
Occupation: Event caterer.
"I WAS fortunate enough to take part in Cycle India 2012, along with my wife Grace and 21 others. This is how we came to go on the ride: it's our 20th wedding anniversary in April and we were looking for a special holiday to mark it. One of Grace's friends took part in a two-week cycling holiday in Vietnam a year or so ago, and following great reports of her experiences, we were looking for something similar. These holidays are expensive, so we looked at India instead, and Google led us to HEAL and Cycle India. We found there was a ride taking place at the ideal time of year for our business, that would cost us much less than going to south-east Asia, and would raise lots of money for a very good cause. What was there not to like? We contacted the organisers and booked our places last spring, and spent the next six months or so in eager anticipation of the trip.
I was quite unfit and a bit overweight so, fearing being left behind on the slopes, we started going out on our bikes a couple of times a week, getting to know the country better, riding distances of 15-50 miles. We got great benefit from these rides in terms of enjoyment and the feeling of well-being, and also became expert at fixing punctures! Facebook encounters with other members of the group were enjoyed and there was soon a bit of banter going.
For me personally, the ride was transformative on many levels. It was a great team-building experience, with cameraderie and mutual affection between us from the word go. We Brits aren't always as stuffy and cold as our reputation!
A wonderful adventure, with other people doing the organising and all the work. We just had to enjoy it and ride the bikes. A first time in India - what a feast for the senses; warmth, colours, countryside, vibrancy and great food! Humbling to receive the garlanded welcomes.
A big jolt to my moral compass. This is a big subject and I'll just say that I'm not quite the same as I used to be since the ride. We have a new set of friends for life.
Can't wait for CI 2014!"
Home town: Warminster, Wiltshire
Occupation: PA; hobbies include cycling, attending pottery classes and cooking.
"ADY and I wanted to do a cycle ride and first thought of Vietnam. However, after researching on the internet Ady came across the HEAL Cycle India website. This made so much sense to do a bike ride but to include a charity. We raised money through sponsorships, and Indian dinner evenings, having as many as 21 people sitting around tables in all our downstairs rooms. The fundraising itself proved to be rewarding and great fun.
The trip exceeded all expectations. We met a wonderful group of like-minded people, who I like to think of now as friends. Our cycle challenge took us over some tough terrain, up some steep hills, over some bumpy roads, through manic traffic and, of course, down mountains with many hairy hairpins. The scenery was magnificent throughout; mountains, tea plantations, sunsets, colourful people, smiling faces everywhere.
We had a fantastic support group in Kalypso who looked after us very well indeed, including refreshment stops, accommodation, support vehicles and again, friendship. Vas, the leader, was full of energy and fun and took us over many a 'flat hill'.
Not until the cycle ride was over and we arrived in Andhra Pradesh did I feel the full impact of our challenge. We visited the site for Paradise Village, seeing the plans for the whole complex and witnessing the early stages of the school building rising from the ground with the unrelenting work from happy local workers. We also visited the HEAL Village where we were greeted by hundreds of beautiful children full of life and ambition, and our brief visit to the slums where many of the HEAL children would still be breaking stone in the quarry if not for the charity.
This experience was truly life-changing, full of every emotion. It made every push on the pedals and fundraising event worth the time and effort a million times over. Bring on 2014 to see how far the work has come on and to see those children again!"
Home town: From Aberdeen but living in Edinburgh.
Occupation: Set up my own business in March 2011, Help4Letting, the first ethical letting hub for all your letting needs.
"I HAVE always been interested in India and with starting my own business wanted to start supporting a charity. I also really enjoy cycling so I googled charity cycle India and found HEAL.
So happy that I took the plunge and did it…the whole experience, the people involved and the country itself have been so inspiring and I certainly don’t think that’s going to be my last time in India – well, I hope not! The children were so happy, it really puts a lot of things into perspective."