A determined group of people from the North East are getting into peak physical and mental fitness for a gruelling physical challenge.
The hardy bunch are taking part in a 310 mile cycle ride across Italy next summer to raise vital funds for the County Durham-based children’s charity, Heel & Toe.
And for many the cycling challenge means a journey of rediscovery of their health and fitness.
Organiser Dave Broadley, 46, of Gateshead, is a logistics manager with International Paint in Gateshead. He decided to take up exercise to lose weight and become more healthy and active.
“A few years ago I was quite overweight, I was about 20 stone,” he explained.
“I did the Great North Run a couple of years ago to lose weight and get fit and I lost two stone. Now I am doing this ride for Heel & Toe to raise much needed funds but also for the fitness aspect.”
Dave used to enjoy keeping fit and prior to his more recent fitness drive he previously ran the Great North Run in 1983, 1984 and 1986 when he was just 19.
“I was in the photo running over the Tyne Bridge,” he said. “But I gradually lost my fitness when I started working.
“I was always trying to get fit so I would go to the gym or do five-a-side football, but it always fizzled out.
“Then the grandkids came along and I thought I had better get fit so I can run round after them. I did the Durham Big Ride in 2008 and 2009 then the Gateshead 10k in 2011 and the Great North Run in 2012.”
Before he decided to take up cycling it had always been predominantly running that Dave has enjoyed and still does.
“I do the Park Runs which are held on a Saturday,” he explained. “I registered for them as they are only 5k which is a nice distance so I would do them every so often.
“I always enjoyed doing running but I think a marathon is beyond me at the moment and I haven’t done anything this year. That is why I thought I would try the cycling.”
Dave has strong links with Heel & Toe, which has centres in Durham, Chester-le-Street and Darlington, and provides free conductive education therapy to children with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities.
He has been supporting the charity since 2009, when he first became aware of their work, as Hannah, aged 14, a close friend of the family had been attending the charity regularly. He decided to lend his support by organising the Heel & Toe cycle ride through Italy as his latest challenge to boost his fitness.
“I always used to cycle as a young lad but then I started work and it fell by the wayside,” he said. “I am really enjoying the cycling and the ride is going to be a huge challenge for all of us as we are all different abilities.”
Lorna Shepherd, a 47-year-old mother of twins, is also joining the cycle ride and enjoys the social aspect of exercising.
She said: “I have a few friends who are all girls who live in different parts of the country so we try to get together a few times a year and cycle.”
The nurse at the University Hospital of North Tees is friends with Gill whose son Matthew, 17, has been going to Heel & Toe in County Durham for four years.
“Gill’s family have done a fair amount of fundraising for Heel & Toe and I thought this was something with a local connection that I could do to help them,” explained Lorna.
“Gill has recently taken up cycling too so we try and go together now and again.”
Lorna ties keeping fit in with her daily routine by cycling a five mile round trip to and from work.
“It’s a bit of a struggle in the winter but I do it to keep fit and it’s free,” she said. “It is built into my routine so there is no getting in from work and feeling too tired to go out again or needing to pack a bag for the gym.
“Cycling suits me. I have no co-ordination so aerobics is out. I did run for a while and did the Great North Run twice, but cycling is easier on the knees.”
Mark Goodwin, a 37-year-old father-of-three from South Shields has worked in the fitness industry for 15 years and has used exercise to boost his mental health.
He said: “I think it is so important for people to exercise. In recent years I went through some personal issues which led to depression and anxiety.
“I went to my GP and decided to get a bike and get out on it. Exercise helped me no end and I am a firm believer in ‘healthy mind, healthy body’.
“I became very passionate with cycling as a result of riding regularly, joining a cycling club and watching the grand cycling tours on TV.”
The physical activity specialist works with people in Gateshead who have been prescribed exercise by their GP after they have suffered conditions, including heart attacks and strokes.
Mark, who coaches classes in spinning and circuits, is encouraging people to keep trying different exercise until they find what it right for them.
“I would say try a wide range of activities like walking, gym classes, swimming,” he said. “If you keep going then something will click eventually.”
Stephen Bell, 55, of Washington, Wearside, said he began getting more active with his two grandkids, 11-year-old twin girls.
“When I was young I used to do a lot of running. I ran for the Shields Harriers and I did the Great North Run five times,” he said.
“My best time was 1hr 30mins. But then I became self-employed after that for 10 years and fitness just went out of the window. If a job comes in you have to do it as that is the priority.
“I did nothing at all until the grandkids came along. Then I started getting more active with them.
“I cycled with the grandchildren and it went from there. The lads at work go out so I started going with them. It has built up and now I go out three times a week.
“I like cycling as I can go out with work mates or on my own. It is accessible. I am out with my thoughts and I always challenge myself to go that bit further.
“I am getting fit, getting my heart pumping and trying to do better than the last time.”
Up until last year, Stephen had never heard about Heel & Toe until a work colleague forwarded an email to him about the charity cycle ride, which is going from the heel of Italy to its toe.
Stephen said: “The second I got the email I said ‘I’m doing it’. I like the riding; and to be able to combine that with helping people by raising money is a big bonus.
“I think learning more about the charity and how it is helping children with cerebral palsy, will help to inspire me and get me round the route.”
Now he is urging others to get active by backing The Journal’s Great North Fitness Revolution campaign.
Two years ago, The Journal joined forces with Nova International to launch our Great North Fitness Revolution.
The campaign is challenging everyone to make a pledge to get active and make the positive changes that will lead to a better life.
Stephen said: “I think the Great North Fitness Revolution is a great campaign. Anyone can exercise, you just have to choose what is right for you.
“I used to do a lot of running before but it is hard on your knees and joints so cycling suits me better now.
“I would say to people taking up exercise just to do a little bit at a time. You don’t need to push yourself too much at the start then you can slowly build it up.”
For more information about the Heel & Toe charity cycle ride in Italy email David.Broadley@Sky.com