A wounded veteran from Devon is to take part in a unique overnight mountain bike challenge from 27 – 28 June, despite having serious mobility issues.
Chris Jones, who grew up in Teignmouth but now lives on the edge of Dartmoor, is determined not to let injuries to his right ankle, knees, hip and lower back prevent him from taking part in the Snowdon Starlight Struggle.
This will see ten wounded, injured and sick Service personnel and veterans ride their mountain bikes up the 3,560’ high peak in daylight and then race to the bottom in darkness. The challenge has never been attempted by such a team and is culmination of six months’ intensive training all over the country.
Leading them will be Warrant Officer Roger Coates. Based at Help for Heroes’ northern Recovery Centre, Phoenix House in Catterick, he is an instructor for Battleback – the Ministry of Defence initiative that, in partnership with Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion, uses adaptive sport and adventure training to speed an individual’s recovery.
“During the never-ending quest to find events which would sufficiently challenge the wounded, injured and sick Service personnel and veterans that we support, someone suggested that we might be able to recruit, train and select a team to ride their mountain bikes to the top of Mount Snowdon,” said WO Coates.
“But that challenge has been done before and we like to do something different. One of our more avid riders suggested that we rode up in the daytime, waited for nightfall and then raced down as fast as we could in complete darkness. Challenge accepted!”
To achieve this, the team, (nine men and one woman) from the Navy, Army and RAF will cycle a total of 9.6 miles and climb a total of 3,199ft), all of which they aim to do in under six hours.
Chris, who served in Army Air Corps until 1998 when injuries plus failed surgery meant he could no longer fulfil his role,will be one of three team members using an electric bike. Even so, he will need support from his fellow riders to get him and his bike up some of the steeper slopes on the way up to the peak. Cycling back down will not be a problem for him!
“No question it's going to be tough. Snowdon is one of the UK’s iconic mountain bike rides but, with my injuries, there is no way that I could do it without assistance so the opportunity to ride it with support from Help for Heroes was too good to miss,” said the 46-year-old.
“I have been riding since I was a kid and right through my service career but, shortly after my discharge, was told that I'd never ride again.”
That didn’t stop Chris. He took up hand-cycling, even creating two hand-cranked mountain bike prototypes on which he set several UK firsts, including entering mainstream races against able-bodied riders. But since re-discovering ebikes in 2017 (much improved from those he tried back in 2010), he hasn’t looked back. Last year, he took part in another Help for Heroes/Battleback challenge as a member of the first disabled team to complete the Mountain of Hell - the most challenging and fastest race on the Alpine Enduro circuit.
Chris has also found that mountain biking greatly helps his mental health which declined following his discharge from the army. Although now greatly improved, thanks to two years of treatment, he admits to still having ‘small wobbles every now and then’. However, he’s found that supporting other less experienced riders is beneficial to himself too.
“I am increasingly enjoying using my knowledge and skills to help others to achieve their goals and I'd like to continue to develop this with the Help for Heroes mountain biking team. Helping people helps me to keep my mental health in balance, so these opportunities are really great for me. I come away feeling very satisfied.”
The Help for Heroes team will embark on the Snowdon Starlight Struggle overnight on June 27/28. They will have to work together on the way up to support each other over some particularly rough terrain, sometimes carrying each other’s bikes and also assisting some of the less mobile riders. On the way down, the cyclists will use high powered lighting systems and stick together.
Said WO Coates: “If you asked the riders why on earth they would want to take on such a challenging event, they would probably just say just ‘because it’s there’ but, in reality, events like this help them recover from their injuries and illnesses - both mental and physical - in a way that, from being in the Military, they are used to - working as a small group of determined teammates to complete a mission.
“In doing so, the road to recovery becomes an easier path to travel.”
To enable Help for Heroes to continue supporting the wounded, injured and sick through challenges like the Snowdon Starlight Struggle, you can donate here: https://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/give-support/donate-now/
Help for Heroes offers support throughout the year from its Recovery Centre in Plymouth and community locations across the South West. Including the fourth Thursday of the month when the team will be at the Cranford Sports Club on Salterton Road in Exmouth.