It's Student Volunteering Week! Our former Student Fundraising Executive, Max Turner, a repeat offender when it comes to our London to Paris cycle challenge, shares the story of his first time and why he loves the event so much.
I have a bicycle, but by no means am I a cyclist. Over the space of nine months I was responsible for looking after 85 students who decided that a three day, 200 mile cycle from London to Paris (L2P) was for them.
To even get to the start line they needed to fundraise £950. To many of them, this was as daunting a prospect as the hills that separated them and the Eiffel Tower.
Much like my training efforts, they trundled along, armed with their collection tins, sponsorship forms and outside of the box fundraising ideas – and let me tell you, students come up with the best ones. Did you think you could raise £150 selling pet rocks with googly eyes? No, neither did I – but here we are.
Some students went above and beyond of course; Lorna Wilkinson, our top fundraiser on L2P, raised £2002.50, with a gargantuan £900 from a single street collection in Harrogate.
What started as trepidation of a big fundraising target, was turning into excitement of the cycle ride they were about to embark upon. A shame then, that their excitement was my trepidation. As I heard more and more about their training, their fundraising efforts, the more I realised my distinct lack of training and a niggling knee injury might prevent me from keeping up with their enthusiasm. But if anything it was that very enthusiasm that kept me going.
Hello... is it hills you're looking for?
From the start point in Crystal Palace, the atmosphere was electric – and as we went on our way towards Newhaven the sun was doing its best to creep out from behind the clouds and cheer us on. The biggest hill of the trip, Turners Hill in Sussex was a formidable prospect – but as we approached it, people who had been strangers hours before, were cheering each other on, “Come on everyone, we’re going to smash this hill!” – we were already a team.
As the trip progressed, legs grew weary and eyes tired, yet spirits if anything were higher. Terrible jokes and Lionel Richie sing-alongs were the order of the day, even in torrential rain.
Everyone could go in groups that suited their ability, this was truly a trip for all abilities. You could choose a leisurely pace or storm ahead flying through the French countryside. This meant you got to know the people around you, make friends and feel a genuine sense of camaraderie. Commands like 'slow', 'stop' or 'puncture' were relayed down the line. No one gets left behind.
Two days down, one to go
As the second day drew to a close, you could tell excitement (along with tiredness) was growing, but equally people realised it was getting closer to being over. Never have I been so simultaneously happy and sad for a 10pm bed time as day two of London to Paris. And so our approach to Paris began, the earliest start, the longest distance, the hardest day. Our resolve was tested.
Everyone was worried that they wouldn’t get their blue skies, bike overhead photo opportunity at the Eiffel Tower, but as we made our final approach to Paris, it seemed fortune favoured the bold and le soliel was willing to put his hat on. As our group approached the team welcome point behind the tower, cheers, clapping, and chants of “Allez, Allez, Allez!” were all that could be heard.
For the students, 9 months of hard graft of fundraising, training and preparation were coming to an end. This is the moment they’d been waiting for, and from what they’ve told me, it was everything they had hoped for. Hugs, tears and hundreds of photos ensued.
Why students fundraise for breast cancer research
These students, some of them out of school less than a year, had just undertaken one of the most difficult yet rewarding challenges of their life, and as a group raised just under £100,000 for vital breast cancer research. How is that anything but awesome? They’d loved it, I loved it – it was honestly one of the most enjoyable (yet challenging) things I’d ever done.
If you haven’t cycled London to Paris, do it. If you have cycled London to Paris, do it again. For me, the last nine months had been phone calls, emails, spreadsheets (and nowhere near as much training as there should have been) – but being in a photo with all these incredible fundraisers in front of one of the modern wonders of the world – well, it’s all rather exciting isn’t it?
I will finish this by saying obviously I am overwhelmed by being able to complete the ride and how much fun I had and it is so exciting to know how much our student fundraisers loved it too.
But the most exciting thing for me? When we overcome breast cancer – and we will – these students can all honestly say: they were part of that.
Does the sound of 'Three days - two cities - the time of your life' take your fancy? Join our London to Paris team or discover more opportunities to get involved and make some of the greatest memories of your life, all while helping to make a real difference to breast cancer research.
Learn more about Student Volunteering Week 2016 - taking place 22 - 28 February.