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Against all odds: 75 Riders, 2 Countries, 250 Miles, 72 hours and 2 Boats

by Nick Gregory

On Sunday, 6th May 2013 Mel Simmonds was one of a team of 75 people who cycled into Guildford Rugby Club having completed 250 miles, and 11000 ft of climbing, over three days as part of the 2nd annual Halow 250 charity ride, raising £60,000 in the process. What makes Mel's achievement even more remarkable is that following horrendous injuries, she was expected to struggle to walk again, let alone cycle anywhere....

A dream holiday on the Ionian island of Kefalonia, western Greece with her boyfriend, Jay, in July 2010 turned to disaster for Mel following a quad bike accident that resulted in her being repatriated to the UK for emergency medical treatment. 

"The day had started perfectly", said Mel "we'd been diving in clear crystal blue waters all morning having rented a quad bike for the journey to the dive shop to hire our equipment. We were on our way back to drop off the bike and head on to our hotel when things went horribly wrong. 

"I don't remember exactly what happened after the steering on the bike locked - just the sheer panic of going off the road and plummeting down over rocks towards the sea below." 

Both Mel, who was driving, and Jay were thrown from the bike. Not only were Mel's legs badly broken in several places, but she also suffered a broken nose, and broken finger, as well as numerous deep cuts and grazes. 

Mel was in considerable pain, but couldn't have any of the required medical operations in Greece, as the inurance company wouldn't cover their use of quad bikes. (Something she later wants to highlight to people considering hiring such vehicles.) She and Jay had to find £8,000 to get home, which involved two flights, a ferry crossing and some 16 hours of painful and stressful travel in various ambulances. 

Back in the UK, Mel spent six months in a wheelchair and was unable to work or study. She has since undergone several operations, and quickly had to come to the realisation that her injuries would be life changing. 

H250

However, Mel's positive attitude, cheerful disposition and determination not to let this accident control her life led her to apply for a job working at The Halow Project - a Surrey charity that, amongst other things, works with groups of young people with learning disabilities and helps them to gain confidence and take control of their futures. Halow now supports over 150 young people with learning disabilities on their journey through adult life. 

Since she started working for the charity, Mel has been involved with several fundraising activities, and in May 2013, Mel's love of cycling was ignited when she took part in Halow's 250 Challenge. After overcoming initial concerns about her long-term injuries, she and her colleague at Halow decided to commit to the challenge, and she set about finding a bike.

Mel's network of friends came to her aid, and with the help of George and Mark from the 2Boats team, she settled on the Cube Peloton Pro Triple 2013 road bike. Having got the bike, Mel set up her training plan that took place across what turned out to be a harsh winter, but this didn't stop her. The ride organisers were again on hand to help put together a programme with Mel's specific requirements in mind. 

The main event was launched by Formula 1 star, Damon Hill (Halow Patron). Some of the best weather of the year greeted the 75 cyclists, 25 support crew and various media outlets, including Sky Sports - who ran a feature on Damon and the charity ride throughout the day.

The first stage was a 75 mile ride through Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex, finishing at Portsmouth Dockyard with a welcome drinks reception aboard the HMS Warrior. Accomodation was provided by Brittany ferries, and riders dozed off to the thought of an early start and 110miles of cycling to Caen. 

The weather was again perfect. Good support and regular feed stations was complimented by plenty of encouragement from the roadside. Mel and co cycled into Caen in good time for a meal and a celebratory drink having comfortably broken the 100 mile mark for the day. It was then back on the overnight ferry for a good night's sleep in preparation for the last leg of the ride back to Guildford. 

The final leg was a leisurely 50miles up through the beautiful Sussex country side to savour what had been achieved. The evemt finished with a mass ride in to Guildford Rugby club, and an emotional welcome home party attended by many of the young people at Halow, and, of course, family and friends. 

Speaking at the finish, Mel had the following to say, "the Halow 250 event helped me enormously - I had no idea just how much it would mean. Physically, the ongoing pain I suffer stopped when I began training and getting fitter ahead of the challenge. I felt great during the challenge, and have never been healthier. But more than that, my job and work with Halow has helped me both physically and mentally to come to terms with what happened and overcome my injuries." 

"I suppose my accident taught me to never give up and live life to the full," she said. "I absolutely love my job with Halow and find the work very rewarding. My new found love of cycling would never have happened had it not been for my accident and working with Halow. I can't wait to ride again in the 2014 event in May, and I am already trying to get friends and family to sign up and take part. It's an inspiring ride through beautiful English and French country side, and is suitable for novice and more experienced riders alike," Mel added. 

Following the success of last year's event, 2Boats will once again be organising  the Halow 250 over the first May bank holiday weekend. So come and join us, raise essential funds for the Halow Project, and enjoy a fantastic charity cycling event.





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