From Liverpool to the Polish-Ukrainian border
Seven cyclists embarked on an epic journey from Liverpool, England to the Ukrainian border cycling 2000 kilometers in 14 days!They faced freezing weather and strong winds in Holland, dodged flying umbrellas in Germany, endured long hours on the saddle, a vehicle breakdown and fatigue – all in support of two causes they care deeply about: Parkinson’s research and Terre des hommes’ mental wellbeing activities to support Ukrainian young refugees.A massive congratulations to Gary Shaughnessy and his team for completing the challenge! We are amazed by what they have achieved and inspired by their empathy, courage, and dedication.
After a trip marked by unexpected setbacks, moments of inspiration, friendship, laughter and resilience, we sat down with Gary to find out more about the experience.
Preparing for the trip was not easy, especially because Gary had run marathons and completed swimming challenges in the preceding months. He says, “Physically, I was fit for endurance activity, but being fit and getting up every day for 14 days and getting on a bike is a different thing altogether. You have to take each day and do what you can that day and try not to worry about what happens beyond that. My expectations of what was going to happen and what actually happened were completely different. Preparing for the unexpected is something you have to be able to do.”
When it comes to expectations versus reality, Gary adds, “I had got this image in my mind of a sunny May, the wind behind you pushing you along and long summer nights. That worked on day 1. Day 2, it was a bit wet. Day 3 in Holland, the wind was pushing against us. We were late all the way through. I had fallen off a couple of times. It was absolutely freezing. Preparing for a day like that is impossible to do. It was the hardest day of cycling that I have done. It was confronting your own expectations. It’s one thing to cycle along when the wind is behind you, but it’s another when it’s the complete opposite.”
On what kept him going in the toughest moments, he states, “Oh, the people keep you going, no doubt! I was very lucky that most people on the challenge were very good cyclists, and all are very good friends. And it’s not really the right phrase to call it ‘Gary’s challenge’. It was the ‘Liverpool to Ukraine cycling challenge’. Whilst they'd all offered to help me in the challenge, even for good cyclists it’s a long time in the saddle. It’s a lot of work and they had to also think about keeping me going, going a bit slower than they would normally go because I’m not as quick as they are - this meant less recovery time.
“And I don’t know whether people realize but when you’re struggling and you see a comment on the tracker or on the Facebook page we had and someone’s saying, ‘That’s great, well done!’ or mentioning a relative who has Parkinson’s. It just makes a huge difference. It really kept us going. It certainly kept me going anyway.”
And if you get the opportunity to focus on what you can do and not what you cannot do, you will recognize that you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try.
An undertaking of this nature would have never been possible without an amazing team who joined or offered support along the way. Gary says “In terms of cyclists who were there the whole time, we had Andy Tucker, Teresa Robbins, Steve Dawes and Ben Money and Pete and Tracy Grigoleit, husband and wife, who did a week each. And from one of the sponsors DAC Beachcroft who work along with the UK business. Patrick Hill did a week and he enjoyed it so much, he came back to do the last day. Joe Rock drove the support van and without him there wouldn’t have been a day two.”
Gary also mentions his wife Janet, riders from the Dutch and Belgian Zurich offices, cyclists from the Cologne, and Frankfurt Zurich offices in Germany, the Krakow Zurich office, Asia Ziomek, Christian Carl, Emma Logue, the Parkinson’s UK Huddersfield Group, Ionut from Terre des hommes. Each of these individuals offered crucial support at critical moments throughout the journey.
Some of Gary’s most memorable experiences include: positive uplifting sessions with Zurich teams, a Zurich branded swan seat at one office, two large standing umbrellas that flew into the air, narrowly missing a team member when they landed, and being appointed ‘Director of Nutrition’ to ensure the team had enough calories – this meant unlimited ice cream for everyone!
No alt text provided for this image
There were times when tough decisions had to be made, particularly on the final day when the team decided to participate in an early morning organized run. Gary says, “If I had cycled to the start, we wouldn’t have got there in time for the start of the run. So, everyone else cycled and I went in the van. It's quite difficult but there is a point where you have to accept you can’t do everything and you have to be pragmatic about it. The team had supported me for 2 weeks so it was the least I could do. I'm lucky to have a lot of willpower, but there comes a point at which you acknowledge you can’t do everything. I joined in the 5km run, got back on the bike and cycled the vast majority of the day.”
The most striking experience that will stay with Gary happened in the final two kilometers of the journey, while cycling to the Ukrainian border. There was no traffic apart from a huge number of trucks parked on either side waiting to get across. He explains, “It felt like a scene from a very strange film. We carried on and suddenly got to this hotel where there was a wedding on. Very close to what is a war-torn country, you’ve got people having a wedding, living their lives, enjoying themselves, and finding a way to celebrate regardless of the fact that there are awful things in the world.
“And that sums up how I feel about the whole thing, which is, despite the awful situations that arise as a result of humankind at their worst, you can still see humankind at their best – people prepared to celebrate, encourage, support and be there for one another. So, we saw this wedding and cycled on to the barrier where there was no one around except the border guards. And we all just stood there and had our photo taken. It didn’t feel right to celebrate but it felt right to recognize what we had done. It was a very emotional moment but very humbling at the same time. Life goes on in many ways, people are very adaptable. They find ways to get on and live life. It doesn’t mean that the situations they are dealing with are any less traumatic and difficult. Even at that moment, I was able to learn lessons- I have a lot of willpower and tend to try not to be helped but I was trying (and failing) to send a text to Elena from the Ukrainian family that now live with us. Instead of persisting with my tremor, I accepted Christian Carl's offer to text for me -a small action but one I appreciated enormously."
Now that it is over, Gary reflects on how he feels, “I feel very proud, I feel very humbled by just how brilliant people have been. I feel more and more positive about what people can be if they are given the opportunity and at the same time more concerned about what some people can be. The extremes of human behavior are more obvious to me than they were two weeks ago.
“We listened to Ionut from Terre des Hommes talk about the work they do and I am proud we could do something but also very conscious that it doesn’t take much money to make a difference. For a lot of people, it’s about local support, being relevant and helping people to be open about the issues. I am very lucky to have the opportunity and privileged to be able to do something.”
When it comes to takeaways, Gary offers “it’s all about the people. And if you get the opportunity to focus on what you can do and not what you cannot do, you will recognize that you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try. I do lots of extreme challenges. For me it happens to be running marathons or a 14-day cycle, but for some people it can be running 5k, for some it could be working on their fears of public speaking or whatever it happens to be. What I have found throughout all of these things is that you might fail but that's much better than not trying in the first place. Having the love and support of such great friends, who care about you for who you are is very special to me. At the same time, meeting new people and learning from them and their perspectives makes me more rounded and open. I feel very lucky to have had this experience.”