12 August 2010

Message from Lord Sebastion Coe

Best wishes to the Back Ben Parkinson cyclist team. Inverness to Portsmouth. Heroic and inspirational. Many congratulations boys

Day 13

A relaxed get-away form Aldershot was watched by Corps RSM M Callender, we will just leave it that we didn't exactly pick up any military precision or haste along the way. With an unexpected police escort joining the team, the two policemen on motor bikes put on their brilliant flashing red and blue lights to stop traffic on roundabouts, allowing the team to cruise towards Gosport. Our last lunch, with the ever superb spread of sandwiches and lesser eaten salad, was provided by the most highly underrated group on the entire trip, headed by :

Joanne Roberts (the campaign's primary contact with Ben Parkinson, fund raiser, media communicator, expert dietitian {a major success story in-itself}, procurement officer, chef de tour, navigator & lead car safety enforcer). A very busy and extremely capable lady.

Joanne was incredibly supported en route by Sarah Larwood, Wendy Dean, Jackie Preston, Charlotte Cordy-Redden and Marja Wise, without whom the trip would not have been possible, nor such an enjoyable experience. The team would like to thank Joanne and the Ladies for their unrelenting efforts, for their incredible enthusiasm throughout, for traveling the length of the country executing various roles from excellent map reading, through to driving the lead and rear safety vehicles and for creating an essential support base that ran like clockwork and went largely un-acknowledged. We could definitely not have done this without you.There could not be a better, all round, all-encompassing group. Also Morgan Roberts, who along with Joanne, spent hours on sponsorship placement and he laboured for many days plotting an incredibly safe and scenic cycle route from Northern Scotland to the English south coast, stretching over 870 miles. His attention to detail, was a key to our success.

With ITN waiting to film the finish, the speed was cranked up to greater levels than when following the Harleys in Doncaster. After just under nine hundred miles we motored into Portsmouth at about 25 miles per hour, as a team and over the finish line in Gosport to a champagne finish as friends and families shouted out, waved banners, desperate for a glimpse. The camaraderie that had grown since day one shone through with the team reveling in the moment. Deservedly, Ross "machine" Preston took the final stage,( just as he had pulled the team up the mountainous Cairngorms, Grampians, Cheviots and the Pennines) and had cycled at the front of the peloton all day every day.

Special thanks to the ever smiling Harry Adolphus who took up the idea of a long term association with individual, seriously injured soldiers and set this whole campaign in motion. He spent many many hours working on kit and sponsors and other such matters. He devoted enormous time and energy into igniting the whole process, sacrificing significant opportunities within his academic, school, social and home life. He cycled professionally and  he shared his "media" duties generously with his fellow riders. Morgan, Harry and the team have created a special bond with Ben. Which is simply, after all, the whole point of our campaign. As Harry said to the News At Ten,"we are not trying to build hospitals, just lifelong relationships and mutually supportive friendships with people who have given much more".

Big thanks to James Cordy-Redden who, when asked by Harry, unhesitatingly was the first to agree to join this campaign, (never gave up and drove his body up ever higher peaks, top man James) Josh Wise (stylish and steely, very impressive young man, belies his model looks), Will Dean (quietly determined, never-ever faltered) Ross Preston (yellow jersey on every stage), Will Larwood (flew up mountains) George Farquharson (joined only days after a major shoulder operation, no complaints and weaved an extra 60 miles). Additionally, huge respect from the team to Morgan Roberts who fractured his elbow in an accident when charged at by a car after only 170 miles into the ride, but continued to cycle the balance of 700 miles ('arder that ard). All 8 cyclists added their own special ingredient to the team and discovered that not only could they manage extreme sport but that also there is more in them yet. Every cyclist rode every single yard of the way.

[Thanks also to Freddy Clarke for his two epic stages. On the final stage, Charlie Cowdrey, Ted Croker (the boy cycled with style) Giles Pamplin (heavy bike well ridden) Ben Dean, Sam Mitchell and Tom Fitzgerald (great effort from all three of you)]

After having our bikes as an extension of our bodies for thirteen days, I feel that secretly the gorgeously rhythmic cadence of pedaling, the roar of the wind in our ears and the beauty of cycling the length of Scotland and England will be sorely missed.

It was an epic two weeks and it was an honour to cycle for you Ben Parkinson.

Day 12

Day twelve saw the team cycle to Aldershot. An early wake up call enabled the team breakfast in the police section of Buckingham Palace and a look at the many decoy cars that allow the royal family to escape the press. Heading out of London we were greeted by the down to earth Lee Dixon, who quickly took to the front of the peloton and ramped up the pace as we cycled out of London. The team would like to thank Lee for his exceptional support towards the cause. Once we parted ways, it was onto The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Surrey. Cycling on the parade ground has been banned for hundreds of years, but with Ben Parkinson everything is possible, and so it was we cycled under the steps where the Adjutant rides his horse up the steps of Old College as he follows the graduating Officer Cadets through the Grand Entrance. A huge thanks to Major David James-Roll of the Anglian Regiment who was outstanding in his welcome and who provided us with a fantastic insight into Sandhurst and its roll in the British Army. Thanks also to Colonel Checketts for his part in the arrangements.

Having left Sandhurst, the team had found a groove and we cycled at some speed towards Aldershot. We were greeted at the main gate of Gibralter Barracks by Corps RSM M Callender. We were royally fed and whilst "The Hurt Locker" was dismissed as utter fantasy M Callender was quick to get down to how we can help our wounded soldiers. The whole aim of our campaign has been a simple one. To ensure that we as a nation and as individual communities get behind our wounded soldiers by finding ways to provide continued lifelong support for these extraordinary people.

Day 11

Day eleven saw the team cycle to St John's Wood, London. The morning did not disappoint, eating in the Senior Ranks mess in Colchester, being waited on hand and foot, a full English breakfast with all the trimmings was had by all. With the regiment deploying to Afghanistan in the coming weeks we were awarded the same t-shirts that they will be wearing and we all wish the regiment an outstanding and safe tour. We were sad to leave them and we will stay in touch with our new friends who said they would invite us to their 50th anniversary. We would be very proud to attend such a function.

Cycling into London was without a doubt the most hair raising part of the trip. With the team "assessing" the changing lights, being forced into bus lanes and then squeezed out like a bar of soap by Double Decker's, we became aware that bicycles effectively have no place in London. Along with one violent confrontation involving stones being thrown at us from a white van, the government's integrated transport policy does not yet seem to work. However, as an extreme sport, it was brilliant fun.

We quickly found our way to Buckingham Palace where Ben had already managed to get to the other side of the gates for a cheeky photo. With the front gates being cleared by the police, two foot guards joined us wearing bearskins to complete the perfect photo. Big thanks to Inspector Farquharson for his amazing arrangements concerning Buckingham Palace.

We were glad to put our bikes safely in what appeared to be the most tightly controlled storage building in London, with doors that would only open once others were closed and more cameras than the Pentagon, it was on to The King's Troop RHA, her Majesty The Queen's ceremonial Saluting Battery. Known as 'The Troop' they are a mounted unit trained to drive a team of six horses that pull First World War 'thirteen pounder' state saluting guns. Each gun is pulled by six horses, the pair at the front act as the accelerator and the pair at the back, the brakes.

We were greeted by RSM Marnie who gave the team a tour around what is an oasis in London few civilians will ever see. Set on just a few acres one would never know that inside the modest exterior lies without a doubt the most impressive stables in the world. Inspected four times a day to ensure that standards are maintained, the horses live in absolute luxury. The barracks are located in the heart of London but are a total contrast to the city's hustle and bustle. A massive thanks to Major Cross, commanding officer of Kings Troop RHA, who organised our visit and RSM Marnie who spent considerable time with us ensuring we were well looked after.Thanks also to Major Peter Griffiths for his wonderful efforts on our behalf.

The night was concluded with a trip to a classy fish and chip restaurant and a opportunistic photo with Minty from Eastenders!

Day 10

Day ten saw the team cycle to Merville Barracks, Colchester. En route, with torrential rain and an electric storm slowing the pace, and making cycling dangerous we took cover in Colchester golf club. Showing tremendous, on the spot kindness, we were immediately led into the members area, wearing only our soaking wet lycra, breaking every rule in the dress code. The members were very generous and we ended up being feted and very well looked after. Thank you.

With the rain storm unrelenting, we were soon back on the bikes to ensure that we arrived on time (exactly 15.00) to be greeted by the national press and radio. With some outstanding renditions of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and passing cars turning up their stereos and winding down their windows, the team cycled into the barracks on a high and were met by two hundred of Bens Comrades from 7th Parachute Royal Horse Artillery and the flashing of cameras, lighting up the overcast day. After greeting Ben, a very fast photo shoot and interviews for ITV Anglia, local radio and print journalists so that no one caught pneumonia; we met Sergeant Rudy Fuller. When Ben was lying in the minefield having been blown up, it was Rudy who was first to sprint through the minefield with no regard for his own life in order to save Ben's. An incredible character, Rudy showed us into the best accommodation of the trip, large rooms decked out in Ikea furniture, with en-suites, which after living rough for 9 days was an absolute luxury.

The night really kicked off once we arrived for the BBQ hosted by Bens regiment. Set in what looked like a converted hanger, with the "light guns" having pride of place, the team met Bens comrades. Meeting Bens regiment gave the team a far better understanding of what Ben had undertaken in the army and of the 7th Parachute Royal Horse Artillery. Simply, the 7th Parachute Royal Horse Artillery are trained to parachute into battle with their guns, providing the "punch" with artillery support. We found out nearly everyone and everything in the army has been nicknamed, Bens regiment is no exception, they are known as the "nine mile snipers" due to their incredible accuracy.

We were told the extremes of "P Company" (test to be accepted into the regiment) from the milling (an all out brawl) which might be outlawed due to possible human rights issues, to the log race; all of which enables a soldier the honour of wearing the maroon beret. Bens friends also gave a great insight into Ben, telling us what an outstanding soldier he is and story's of his exploits on tour. The night really gave clarity to the camaraderie within the regiment.

03 August 2010

Day 9

A chilly start to the day accompanied with a standard scrambled egg breakfast! The day begun at a steady pace as we made our descent into Cambridge , lunch was lovely as one of the gorgeous mum discovered an enchanted school tucked away in a majestic housing estate, several nutella sanwhiches later We set off on the final stretch into Cambridge, despite glimpses of grey clouds we avoided the rain! We arrived at Waterbeach Barracks where Ross Preston took the stage, with George and Harry taking the other two podium posistions. We ventured into the city of Cambridge, where once again we mugged innocent pedestrains of their loose change, we returned to the barracks to be greeted by mouth watering steaks courtsey of Lord Watson, which were magnificently cooked by the parents, we have also gained a new comrad who will cycle with us into the magical town of Colchester!   

02 August 2010

Day 8

After the great day yesterday, we were greeted by Ben at 8 o' clock this morning who reminded us that yesterday "was the greatest day of my life". With his new kit on show he was ready to head to his physio appointment whilst we hit the road. The first day of good weather was followed by large tan lines and dehydrated bodies. An 81 mile stretch from Doncaster to Greetham proved hard work even whilst being clapped along by people who recognized us from the news the night before. It was nice to be given free lunch and drinks from the people of Newark on Trent who wanted to do their bit to help us with what they said was a "great cause".

All looking forward to Cambridge tomorrow, for a press shoot and a fundraising session.

Photos in Doncaster

Day 7

Day seven saw the team travel to Doncaster, home of Ben Parkinson
(Yorkshire man of the year!). ITN news, British road cycling champion
Chris Parkinson along with his cycling club & the local Harley-
Davidson chapter joined us for our ride to the Mansion House.

A great and extremely fast run into Doncaster kicked off the day,
with Chris Parkinson leading the enormous peleton. After a delicious
roast from the Green Tree resturant the team met up with the Harley-
Davidson chapter and ITN news to get some footage that was later used
on ITN news at ten. With a great spread put on by the mayor, the day
was on that will live long in the memory.

A massive thanks to everyone involved today, as Ben said, it certainly
was a "good day". Finally, "it's not about the money it's about
creating relationships".

Day 6

Day six saw the team cycle into York on what turned into a gorgeous
day with the sun making a much needed appearance! A great visit from
Ben kept the "airbourne spirits" high. With an early finish, the
buckets came out and we hit the streets to fundraise, meeting everyone
from ladies on their hen night to the local street urchins.

Tomorrow is a big day as the team heads into Doncaster for a reception
with the mayor.

Photos of the cycle ride in Scotland

31 July 2010

Day 5 - Barnard Castle

On day five the team travelled 80 miles to Barnard Castle on what was the hardest stage of the cycle in terms of ascending. A detour off-road into a forest provided the days entertainment and many crashes, along with some bewildered looks from a group of walkers.

Climbing over the Pennines took it's toll as only the clicking noise of changing gears, heavy breathing and occassional singing could be heard. An outstanding effort today...looking forward to seeing Ben on the weekend!

29 July 2010

Day 4 - Selkirk

Today started with a trip to A&E for Morgan, who we later found out has sustained an elbow fracture following yesterdays bike clash...despite this news, Morgan was determined that he would continue riding and powered on with the boys through day 4. We had a great start to the morning and quickly reached the English border where we were greeted by the most spectacular and truly breathtaking views of the country. We pushed on and made great time, setting up camp and eating before dusk! Looking forward to day 5 already...great effort from all so far...fantastic effort Morgan...keep it up everyone!

28 July 2010

Day 3

Following a few photos with Ben, we left Strathalan at 9.30 with aching muscles. After hitting every red light through various towns, we crossed over the amazing Forth Road Bridge, just after lunch. Whilst it was a near miss for Deano, as he spectacularly managed to fly off his bike and roll in the grass...others weren't so lucky, Larwood had two dramatic falls, just before we stopped off at Edinburgh Castle (No photos!) and as we had finished day 3 early we started day 4 to get in a few more miles... unfortunately, as we came to a round-a-bout (12 miles in), Deano braked, Larwood brake...but Morgan DIDN'T...ending up in an almighty crash, broken bike and a severe elbow injury...After a decent rest the boys are focused and ready for tomorrows challenges (including you Morgan!)

27 July 2010

Day Two - Balmoral Castle

A tough first part to the second ride saw the team cycle past another Scottish ski resort. We we also greeted by Ben along the way, putting our suffering on our bikes into some perspective and more than making up for the Queen not being in to greet us at Balmoral Castle! Tomorrow sees the team travel to Edinburgh...doing good boys...lets keep it up!

26 July 2010

The Epic First Day; Fort George to Gairnshiel Lodge

Leaving Fort George accompanied by The Black Watch bagpipes and a phone call from Ben was an inspirational start to the cycle ride. Through wind, sunshine and rain we wove our way up the Scottish hills to Gairnshiel Lodge. Whilst taking in the natural beauty of Scotland, crashing bikes and throwing up; the cyclists have begun to understand the epic undertaking ahead. After an incredible first day the boys are off to get an early night; 60 miles down, 840 to go...bring on tomorrow!

15 July 2010

A message from Carl Fogarty

I am a keen mountain biker so I have some idea of the challenge that these teenagers face for their fundraising cycle ride and I wish them all best. They are sure to be inspired by the efforts of Ben and other very seriously injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan. And there is no doubt that we can all do something to raise both awareness and funds and hopefully everyone will get behind the Back Ben Parkinson campaign and the fundraising ride

12 July 2010

Message from Francie & Jeremy Clarkson

Best of luck to Morgan and Harry and the rest of the team on your cycle ride boys. Ben is a truly inspirational man who embodies the grit, determination and bravery of our servicemen and women. They deserve our thanks, admiration and support. We know if he could, Ben would be with you; cycling every mile - up hill and down dale.

Francie and Jeremy Clarkson

21 June 2010

Massive thanks - Meet our sponsors

The following companies have helped us get our project off the ground. They have provided sponsorship and expertise and above all have had faith in us and what we are trying to achieve. We thank them all for their generosity of spirit.

Berkeley Group were the first sponsor to commit to us and got the ball rolling. When we went to them we had nothing on the table. They kick started this campaign and we are very very grateful for their vision, a key attribute in their approach to development schemes.

WellintonTrek (a family owned company) supplied all the bikes, the spares, backup and training. They stepped in when other much larger more powerful companies shied away. Let's face it without bikes the cycle ride would not have been possible. To Peter Brooker and his staff cycling is a passion and the good news for anyone wishing to undertake their own personal challenge, or even partake in a cycling holiday, is that road bikes are now available for hire from his Sunningdale shop.

Roi Driscoll Design provided hours and hours of free webdesign. The input from Roi was very special. His work speaks for itself. Roi immediately related to what we were trying to achieve with this campaign.

provided the track suits. They were fantastic to deal with and enthusiastic about the cause. They helped us with design and worked tirelessly to get the kit to us.

Marsh & Parsons stepped in at a crucial moment with sponsorship. Thank you to Peter Rollings (Managing Director) for taking the time to listen and offering support so readily.

Fresh Foods are providing all the fresh fruit & vegetables for the 12 day cycle ride. This will be an invaluable contribution to the success of the campaign. Remarkable support from a company based in The Isle of Man.

sponsored the second batch of wrist bands as the first 2500 flew out of the door. Managing Director Paul Redden has not only provided much needed funds but has contributed time and energy to help us launch this campaign. His personal and company contribution has been irreplaceable.

came forward with a solid contribution, enabling us to oil the wheels of our campaign. Thank you for your generosity.

Hertz have provided a people carrier for the duration of the bike ride. Just what we needed as a support vehicle. Their assistance in other areas has been invaluable and we cannot thank them enough.

Thank you to James Ward and Jimmy Cranswick at Endurance Sports Nutrition who gave us a really competitive price on the electrolytes, energy bars and recovery drinks the boys will need to keep them pedalling. Their friendly and efficient sales staff provided a really personal service and it was a pleasure to deal with them.
EnduranceSportsNutrition.co.uk is a rapidly expanding division of "The Supplement Company" based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Stingray RV is the market leader in Europe offering American RV's for sale or rental. Thank you to Simon Leith (Managing Director) for taking our call, offering valuable advice and expertise and agreeing so readily to help.

Thank you also to the following individuals:

Chris Cowdrey
for his unbridled enthusiasm for the cause. His commitment to charity is an example to us all.

Andrew Croker
for his time and expertise.

Rob Perrins (Group Managing Director of Berkeley Group) for his ability to problem solve.

More about Ben

Ben Parkinson was a 6'4" Para. His dream as a boy was to join the army or to be more precise - the Paras.!

Ben got his wish at 16 when he was accepted into Harrogate Foundation College. On the first day there were over 1000 boys - scared, tearful, apprehensive - and there was Ben, head and shoulders above the rest, massive smile upon his face, attracting friends like a magnet and collecting smaller boys like a mother hen. Nothing has ever changed!

Ben had found his niche in life. Perfectly suited to the hard physical challenges, responding to discipline and displaying strong leadership characteristics, he committed heart and soul to his regiment and his mates.

Ben was in the first British vehicle across the border in the Iraq war in 2003. He fought the Battle of Rommalia Bridge on his 19th birthday.
Still determined on a lifelong career with 7 Para RHA, he served a 7 month Winter tour in Kosovo aged 20, before volunteering to deploy to Afghanistan with G Battery Gun group in 2003.

On 12th Sept, 2 weeks before the end of his tour, Ben was the rear gunner in a WIMIK landrover when the rear axle detonated a huge anti-tank mine. Ben took the full force of the blast.

Given no chance of survival, he was flown home immediately, to die with his family. Ben had other ideas! Terribly wounded, he remained in a deep coma for several months. We, his family, remained at his bedside throughout, kept going through the dark times by the constant flow of his regimental family. Right from the start, boys came from Larkhill Camp - under threat of disciplinary action. Boys came straight off the plane from Afghanistan, in full desert kit. Some sobbed, some sat in silence and held his hand, some laughed and joked as if Ben were still amongst them and taking his part in the banter.

The bright spot of our day was seeing the tall marooned berets striding onto the ward.We learnt how Ben represented his regiment in the infamous Ration Pack Challenge, that he was a member of the ' Brown Bandits' entertainment group - how he covered himself in the luminous fluid from inside a light stick and charged into camp one dark night.

We learnt that he had won a regimental 'Blind Date' contest in Iraq, the prize being dinner with a page 3 girl. When the girl gave him a signed photo and wrote 'you were the best' - Ben responded by writing 'I've had better'. Mostly what we learnt was the love, respect and utter commitment that Ben inspired from within his regiment - The Big Unit was going to leave a massive hole in 7 Para and the boys did not intend to let go.

Slowly, slowly, Ben began to improve. Never downhearted, never giving in, totally immune to self pity, Ben has gone from strength to strength. Still determined to return to his beloved 7 Para, he works tirelessly on his physical fitness, his speech, his memory and learning to walk on prosthetic limbs - a feat never before attempted by anyone having suffered such a severe head injury.

Ask Ben today about his injuries and he will say - ' Its no problem, I'm getting better, and it could have been worse - it could have been one of my mates'

20 June 2010

The Boys - who's cycling ?

Standing:l/r Will Larwood,Morgan Roberts,Ross Preston,Harry Adolphus,James Cordy-Redden,Josh Wise.Sitting: Ben Parkinson.Lying down:l/r George Farquharson Will Dean

We are a group of sixth formers who decided that we wanted to make a difference. We are lucky, we live in a world where we can "talk to people " who may have influence. Whilst planning our campaign we have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from people from all walks of life. It has been exciting for us all to come together to show support for a special, tiny minority (our injured soliders) who have sacrificed so much for us. It is clear that whether you are a brickie or a banker, a gardener or a gold medallist, a housewife or a household name you can join us and contribute in some way.

None of us had done much cycling before now and we are all looking forward to the challenge. The cause will keep us going and the thought that Ben will be there at the end waiting for us.

We would like as many people as possible to cycle with us be it for one day, two days or just a few miles. The cycle route is well documented (see The Cycle Route on our website) and a start time and place posted for each day. If you can't cycle please turn out and support us and help us to raise awareness for Ben and others like him.

07 June 2010

Our Campaign

Back Ben Parkinson is a campaign to raise money for Ben Parkinson and create awareness of other seriously injured soldiers like him.

We are cycling from Fort George in the north of Scotland to Portsmouth, starting on 26th July and visiting as many military bases as possible on the way. (See The Cycle Route and join us for some miles).

When you meet Ben Parkinson you cannot help but be inspired. He has an indomitable spirit and a wicked sense of humour. Despite horrific injuries he is rebuilding his life. His strength of character and sheer determination are propelling him to do things that he was told he would never do again.

Ben does not want our sympathy but he does deserve our admiration and support. Ben has had lots of media coverage but there are many soldiers like him who have lost limbs, suffered loss of sight and brain damage who are in the shadows.

"Back Ben Parkinson" is not just about Ben. It is just an example of what is possible.

Our aim is to focus public attention on these brave men and women, to empower them and to promote and encourage social responsibility for them within their communites. Our vision is for other people to come forward to identify an individual who has suffered a similar fate to Ben and come up with a way to help.

This is a call to action.

What is this all about ?

The statistics are only just being made available. In the final six months of 2009 alone 46 soldiers suffered amputations followed by another 16 in the first three months of 2010. We know a great deal about Ben Parkinson and his horrific injuries but we do not know enough about those recently injured and we must make it our business to find out.

This is about recognising that there are families in the community who are already stretched and yet are receiving home a broken body and mind. They may be able to bank a cheque for services rendered but the money will run out and the house may be nowhere near prepared for a disabled person. Men are returning home so badly injured that they cannot walk, talk, see or cuddle their loved ones.

Surprisingly, these men and women do not feel sorry for themselves. They want to beat the medical predictions and regain their lives. You will be inspired by their energy and determination.

We aim to harness the energy and enthusiasm of young people so that they engage with these individuals and form a life long bond. Three schools have adopted Ben Parkinson and we are inviting others to do the same.

However, anyone of any age can help. There is not a single person who does not have something to offer. Maybe you could raise the money to fund a prosthetic limb or a wheelchair, offer free training or free advice. Maybe you could plumb in an appliance, offer to do a few hours gardening, have a chat over a cup of tea or offer support over the phone. It's up to you. You will be saying "I know you are there and I am here for you."