Back in April of this year I signed myself up to be part of the Cycle team for this years Shine event for Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK on Twitter) and to be totally honest with you I completely forgot that I had signed up for it. That was until an e-mail arrived in my inbox inviting me to a briefing for volunteers.
I arrived at the CR UK office by bike of course quite excited about the prospect of helping out with such an event. I had already during the course of the year hassled virtually all of my friends to donate to my London to Paris ride for Macmillan so I didn’t want to participate on the walk but thought I could use my knowledge of London and cycling skills to help out. The briefing was short, they issued me with a map, t-shirt and instructions where to be on the day it was all very simple. Two weeks past quickly and the event was upon me.
The event itself is a 13 or 26 mile walk around London, they also hold the same event in Manchester. Now I personally have never walked 26 miles in one day, let alone done it at night when the temperatures drop so I can only imagine how hard it was for the participants. It was great to see so many, around ten thousand people took the challenge on and from all walks of life too, men, women, tall, short, young and old. I had been warned that it was a long night so I tried to get as much sleep during the day as possible but nothing prepared me for what I went through that night as a volunteer. I was part of the lead cycle team and my job was to be ahead of the main pack of participants checking that signage was in place and the mashals who were hired by CR UK from a company called G4S. It was obvious from a very early start that G4S were not ready for the event at all, by the time we got to the first stop where participants can take on food and water we had already started to see a lack of stewards for the course. Maybe this was normal I thought? Okay they had to get the people in place which probably involved them driving people which is never going to be the fastest way to get through London and issue them with high visibility jackets which they could of course of done before the event.
As we cycled slowly through the route checking the stewards that were there knew where to send the participants it dawned on me just how far the distance is to walk. I know people run marathons and train for them but how many of these people knew that they were in for a physically demanding event? I was not alone on this journey, the other lead cyclist (a guy called Desmond) had been on a few of these before and had a radio so that he could talk to the main control and get information to and from them. I imagined at control them standing round a large map of the route pushing bike teams around with a large pole like they do in old war films.
(Photo by Nick Catford via http://www.subbrit.org.uk/rsg/sites/u/uxbridge/)
The cyclists generally had to fill in for the gaps that were created by the lack of stewards from the G4s company, even us as lead bikes at some points had to dismount and ensure people were going the right way. I don’t blame CR UK for the disorganisation, I had asked Desmond what arrangement CR UK have with G4S and I was shocked to learn that they were being paid for the evening. Sure there were some stewards that were really nice and seemed genuinely supportive and encouraging of the cause but most seemed disinterested and even moody. If I was in charge of paying G4s I certainly would be re-negotiating the charges after the massive lack of numbers for them, out of the 100 they were supposed to have on the course we saw approximately 60, to me this just would not be acceptable, one steward in particular was very moody and not at all encouraging to the participant, I think he spent most of the night with his headphones on leaning against the wall looking like he had just been slapped round the head with a wet fish. I’m not sure why CR UK do not use volunteers for this job, the cycle teams can easily relieve them and generally volunteers will be more emotionally involved, maybe another 100 volunteers are hard to find?
Anyway let’s not dwell on the negative, look to the positive that the 10,000 people between them had raised something like two million pounds for CR UK for the whole event which is incredible. I was guiding people at the 22 mile mark, so if you took part and your reading this yes I was the bouncy, slightly loud cyclist that made sure you crossed the Embankment road safely. This is where my performance side really came out, okay I was not there to perform but I wanted to make people feel good about what they had done, ensure they stayed safe and knew not only how far they had come but how little they had to go. Even though I had been up all that day and started my volunteer shift at 6pm at 4am I was decidedly energetic I thought maybe if I could make a few people smile, offer the odd hug, spur people on and generally tell every single participant just how awesome they were it would help them out for the final 4 miles. It was wonderful to see people smile even though they had put themselves through this ordeal. Every person that smiled even a little bit gave me more energy, just to be able to see that after what these people have been through is amazing. I stayed until the last person passed over the line, I didn’t need to but I felt part of it and wanted to see it through. The girl who was last, was struggling, you could see she was in an immense amount of pain, the whole event took her around 14 hours. I don’t know who she was or why she did the course but I was so proud of her for finishing, it’s obvious she found the whole thing overwhelming. I too was tired having being up for so long, all I could do was head home and tuck myself up in bed and sleep a bit. On the way home I reflected upon the bizarre experience , I would repeat it for sure the feeling I got from helping out was intense and seeing people break past the physical barrier and realising they have done it was incredible.
These are life experiences and from these we learn and grow.