Cycling the Silk Road Mountain Race is so difficult even putting it is into words is near impossible, but a husband and wife team Anton and Julie De Leeuw, see the world through the eyes of explorers – and have no time for words like ‘impossible’.
Anton, a business turnaround specialist and a former international hockey player, and Julie – a former elite mountain biker, squash player and a Gloucester City Hockey player, are determined to compete to raise vital the profile and funds for a centre for young people and adults with physical disability.
‘We wanted to balance the level of challenge against the significance of the work the Chamwell Centre does,’ said Julie, whose LinkedIn profiles describes her as a researcher and psychology coach.
What lies ahead from 13 August 2021 is 16 days of unsupported single-stage bike racing through the remote mountains of Kyrgyzstan covering – should they finish (many do not) 1,800 kilometres and climbing 30,000 metres.
‘Julie and I are looking to make a small difference,’ said Anton, chairman of Gloucester Hockey for three years.
The pair have form when it comes to adventure challenges – meeting while cycling nine years ago they ‘immediately bonded over our shared passion for endurance sports’.
‘We decided to get married on an ultra-cycle and have been training and competing together ever since,’ said the pair, who have two (almost) grown up sons aged 16 and 18 and four dogs.
The Gloucester-based Chamwell Centre charity is a ‘premier centre’ in the UK for people with physical and special needs, and it is paid for almost entirely by fundraising.
At the heart of that centre is its hydrotherapy pool, which the community – including Gloucestershire businesses – raised £5.1 million to build. It needs a continual income to stay operational and currently falls outside of the county council’s funding remit.
Funds ‘help provide play, therapy, sports and social opportunities for children and young people with severe and complex special needs’ and the centre has a JustGiving page linked to its website.
Support has come from the likes of Dee & Griffin Solicitors, Renishaw, GillHarrisJames, Creed Foodservices, Longlevens Rugby Club, Bovis Homes and many more.
Marie Owen, one of the founders of the centre, which his based at Milestone School, Longlevens, said: ‘The school is one of the biggest special schools in the county, with more than 320 pupils. It is a very special place.
‘The Chamwell Centre is also incredibly important.’
Julie is working on a phd paper which could help create a body of evidence which formally recognises the benefits of the therapy and community support offered at the Chamwell Centre, and means it could qualify for local authority funding at last.
In the meantime, the Silk Road Challenge beckons.
Bikes are coming to the couple with the help of Gloucester cycling experts and bike business Slam 69, capable of allowing them to tackle the terrain while also carrying all the food, water, sleeping equipment, clothes and everything they need for survival.
To find out more or to support the couple visit their JustGiving page.
Click here to find out more about The Chamwell Centre.
By Andrew Merrell