As an athletics world champion, Steve Cram has undoubtedly been through some demanding physical challenges.
But the former 1,500 metre World, European and Commonwealth gold medallist was happy to admit his recent charity bike ride in Kenya offered some of the toughest times of his life.
Leading a team of cyclists through arduous territory in the legendary Rift Valley, the 150km journey through Kenyan Maasai land raised £15,000 for Comrades of Children Overseas (COCO), the Newcastle-based international children’s charity he co-founded in 2000.
The money enabled the building of a classroom at the remote Maasai village of Olorte, and the cyclists joined local chiefs, elders and community representatives for the official opening ceremony.
The classroom will allow the school to accommodate a new intake of students this year and offers the perfect example of COCO’s work in remote regions of Kenya and Tanzania – providing education and training for children and their families to give hope for a brighter future.
After completing the four-day ride in 30-degree heat and climbing a total of 4,000 metres, the BBC commentator said: “This has undoubtedly been one of the toughest and most inspiring things I’ve ever done. The whole team was fantastic and I’m so proud of all of them for making it. The challenge was so much tougher than any of us imagined.
“However, when we got to Olorte, met the children and saw how much the new classroom meant to them, all the effort was instantly worthwhile.
“For all of us it was undoubtedly the highlight and gave the tough final day a real purpose. Everyone at COCO is looking forward to continuing our work with the Maasai community.”
The adventure was conceived by African trip specialists Willetts Safaris, whose founder John Blissett was made an elder of the village of Labentera in the heart of Maasai Land, allowing him and the cyclists intimate access to the Maasai people and their culture.
As a result and guided by tribesmen Moses and Jackson, the riders – many of whom had climbed Kilimanjaro for COCO in 2011 – were immersed in Maasai culture and had the unique opportunity to cycle through land which is usually off limits for tourists.
Starting at Maji Moto in the Rift Valley, the route took in the communities of Labentera and Olorte, finishing in Enchorro Naibor.
Steve was joined on the ride – sponsored by cycle insurer Pedalsafe, for which he is an ambassador – by 11 other cyclists including COCO’s CEO Lucy Philipson and former Tyne Tees TV presenter and reporter Philippa Tomson.
Philippa said: “Initially, I was in two minds about committing to this challenge but it has been one of the biggest adventures of my life so far.
“Cycling through remote Maasai villages, coming across a herd of giraffe crossing the road in front of you and learning about a totally different culture has been a real privilege.
“Despite the tumbles, cuts and bruises I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
COCO’s next Kenya Cycle Challenge will take place from September 20-26 this year and entries are now open. For further details please visit www.coco.org.uk