Three Help for Heroes (H4H) beneficiaries have set off on their challenge of a lifetime riding through Britain. Former Royal Engineer Steve Craddock, Naval veteran Lee Patmore, and retired Royal Marine Brian Kilgannon will cycle from John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall in a bid to raise funds for Help for Heroes and support their wounded comrades.
Instead of taking the usual 960-mile route through the western spine of Great Britain, Steve, Brian and Lee have set themselves the added challenge of visiting all four Help for Heroes Recovery Centres and military bases along the way.
These diversions will add almost 500 miles to the route and will mean cycling up hills, totalling a whopping 63,000ft – the equivalent of more than twice the height of Mount Everest.
The team of Veterans stopped off at Tedworth House Recovery Centre, in Wiltshire on Monday 22nd May where they stayed overnight to catch up on much needed rest.
Steve Craddock has won a prestigious Hero Award and a Prime Minister’s Point of Light award for his dedication to fundraising over £350k for H4H since leaving the military. He has put on more than 80 events and ridden 5,000 miles in aid of the charity. For retired Sergeant Steve from Kent, who was diagnosed with PTSD 10 years ago, being able to raise money and run events to help other wounded, injured and sick Servicemen and women is a key part of his own personal recovery journey.
While talking about his inspiration to take the ride on, Steve said: “I think it’s important for people to support Help for Heroes because over the next 20 years many more guys are going to have mental health issues; guys who have physical injuries might get the mental health issues as well and I think we need to be there for them for the long-run. We did promise them support for life and we need to do our bit.”
The physical toll of this monumental challenge is made even more difficult due to Lee’s condition, Fibromyalgia, which causes heightened pain and extreme tiredness. Lee, from Essex, a former Able Seaman will be taking on the journey on a custom-made recumbent hand bike.
Lee found the transition from military life to civilian incredibly hard. Not only had he left the job he had set his heart on but wain in constant pain to the point he was prescribed morphine to dull it. Help for Heroes gave Lee the opportunity through its Sports Recovery programme to try out archery and grant funded Lee’s first wheelchair but adapting to life as a wheelchair user was another challenge he faced.
Lee mentioned: “I realised at that moment I had a choice; either accept I needed a wheelchair, continue archery and being active in life or go back to sitting in my bedroom. I chose the wheelchair. Archery had to come first before my personal fears. My journey has been unbelievable. It has been a bad road; but archery gave me my life back. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling or what has recently happened, it’s all gone when I pick up my bow and reach for my next arrow to load onto the bowstring.”
“Steve will say that this ride is about me and my determination to complete it, but I feel that the ride is about team work. We’re all fellow Veterans. We have our illnesses adding barriers to life, but for me, as a team we can complete some amazing journeys and challenges.”
Brian Kilgannon’s career with the Royal Marines him deploy to Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Norway as well as travelling the world on board a warship. Former Colour Sergeant Brian is no stranger to endurance cycling. He has already cycled from the most northerly part of mainland Britain to its most south westerly point via (as he puts it) ‘the easy route’. And in 2006 he set a world cycling endurance record on an indoor turbo trainer, clocking up a staggering 1,017 miles in 60 hours.
Brian worked hard to escape a difficult childhood, and his future in the Marines looked bright. However, things started to deteriorate for Brian as years of service led to psychological demons creeping in, he explains: “Not necessarily war demons, but events horrific enough to bring on PTSD.”
Brian’s injuries aren’t just confined to his mind. On a tour in Norway he was involved in a skiing accident where his left kneecap was impaled by a ski pole and he is partially deaf in his left ear from an explosion in Northern Ireland.
Eventually Brian reached a point in his life where he was ready for the end: “I just wanted to switch the light off.” For months Brian considered suicide on a daily basis. It was at this point, when Brian was very much in the wilderness, that a friend encouraged him to take the brave step of visiting the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Plymouth where he began to get involved with cycle rides, built friendships and took an interest in the benefits of helping others.
He said: “There is life after service and that’s what I tell everybody now. I didn’t think there was any light at the end of the tunnel. But Help for Heroes turned out to be somebody with a torch looking for me.”
Celebrity Ambassador of Help for Heroes and keen cyclist, Jodie Kidd has supported the trio’s challenge. She said: “Help for Heroes’ motto is to inspire, enable and support. Stephen is inspirational in the fundraising work he does, as well as showing those with long-term mental issues can achieve incredible things. As an ambassador for Help for Heroes, I’ve seen the remarkable work the charity does in enabling and supporting veterans to rebuild their lives.”
The trio are hoping to complete the challenge within their target of 30 days, aiming to cover around 70 miles per day and are fundraising here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ride2recoveryleesjourney
The route will take them through:
• John O’Groats
• Livingstone (Gore Bike Wear)
• Catterick, North Yorkshire (Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Phoenix House)
• Colchester, Essex (Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Chavasse House)
• Brentwood, Essex
• Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent
• Tidworth, Hampshire (Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House)
• Plymouth, Devon (Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, NSRC)
• Land’s End