14 July 2022

While Surrey welcomed warm summer temperatures last week, 24 intrepid YMCA East Surrey cyclists battled through heavy rain, thunder and lightning in the French Pyrenees to raise money for YMCA East Surrey’s Life Change Fund.

In 99 hours, the group traversed 18 mountains, with a combined total of 50,000 feet of climbing, to complete the YMCA Raid Pyrenees challenge. The overall ascent is the equivalent of climbing 125 Box Hills in just over four days of cycling.

Ian Burks, Chief Executive of YMCA East Surrey, was one of the challengers taking part. He said:

“This is the ultimate cycling event – a timed bicycle challenge which covers 442 miles from coast to coast across the peaks and passes of France’s southernmost mountain range.”

“To achieve the distance in the target time of 100 hours is extremely tough and we are so grateful to our fantastic supporters who were willing to put themselves through this gruelling challenge to help us improve the lives of young people in our community.”

All money raised from the event will support vital YMCA projects covering three main areas of work – youth homelessness, youth work, and emotional well-being and mental health.

Ian Burks says:

“The need for each of these services has gone up post-Covid and the current cost of living crisis will only make things worse. The support we get from participants on our Challenge events – and those who donate to their fundraising efforts – will ensure we can deliver exciting projects to give young people hope for the future.”

To date, the fundraising total from the YMCA Raid Pyrenees Challenge stands at £14,875. Ian Cann, a lawyer from Guildford who works for BP, is the top fundraiser to date and has raised over £2,500, with BP pledging to match his fundraising total.
Janina Wightman is a member of Redhill Cycling Club, along with many of the other Raid challengers, and was the sole female cyclist in the group.

An experienced YMCA challenger, she took on a part-time working role from May of this year to give herself more time to train.

“This was the toughest ride I’ve done but I thrive on a challenge,” Janina says. “It’s become an addiction to have something like this in the calendar to push myself towards.”

“Coming down with Covid at Easter was a huge setback which I thought might blow my chances of taking part, but I came back stronger and achieved everything on my training programme and more.”

In the event, the group met the worst of the weather on their toughest day of cycling but pushed on to successfully complete the ride with just an hour to spare.

“We rode through torrential rain and a thunderstorm on a punishing second day with 108 miles to cover and 18,000 feet of climbing to tackle, including the infamous Col du Tourmalet, a frequent fixture in the Tour de France,” says Ian Burks.

“The entire group was brilliant, stayed positive throughout a long, demanding challenge and never gave up.”

“We also had an amazing support team of volunteers who were up before anyone else to get things ready for the riders, were the last people home each day as they supported any stragglers to the finish and provided all the catering to ensure the cyclists could concentrate on completing each day. We couldn’t have managed without them.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the YMCA East Surrey Life Change Fund in support of Ian’s YMCA Raid Pyrenees Challenge success can do so at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ian-burks.

For more information about the YMCA Challenge programme, including the upcoming King Alfred’s Way mountain bike event at the end of July, contact the challenge team at challenge@ymcaeastsurrey.org.uk.