A day in the life of… a Norwood Challenger!

9 January 2019

By Ronnie Harris, Challenge aficionado

Let me start by saying that while I enjoy bike rides, cycling is not the reason I return to Norwood Challenges year after year.

It’s impossible to comprehend the feeling of total exhaustion at the top of a hill, hanging over the handle bars, unable to speak, with your eyes closed and oblivious to the world around you. But then slowly your brain starts to function again and the person with whom you share your tandem is now keen to dig into the biscuits you’ve safely stowed away in your backpack. Fellow friendly cyclists offer you water and then life restarts. It amazes me how such exhaustion then turns to exhilaration and pride. You made it to the top of the hill. Granted, sometimes with help, but you made it. You smile and enjoy the moment.

Unless you take part on a Norwood cycle challenge it’s impossible to understand the pain alongside the pride.

I’m writing this after 25 years of participating on many a Norwood charity challenge, ten of which have been riding tandem with the very people Norwood supports – the people who benefit from the months of fundraising before you’ve even set off on the epic journey itself. In all honesty, none of the challenges have exactly been a walk in the park. Yet each and every single one has been intensely rewarding.

Throughout the years, I’ve been privileged to visit many countries, such as South Africa, Brazil, India, Israel, Egypt, Myanmar, Kenya and Tanzania (among others). I’ve seen the most amazing sights, met wonderful human beings and tried all kinds of interesting cuisines. Yet while these things have been incredible, nothing compares to sharing these experiences with the people Norwood supports. The sense of community, of inclusion, and of a shared pure joy is the sole reason why I continue to return year after year.

Reflecting on the early years – of being lost in Wadi Rum, Jordan, and running out of water; sleeping ten in a room on a Kibbutz; and camping with 180 others under one canvas top – fills me with such pride. Pride in personal achievement, and pride in Norwood – for Norwood has the honour of being the first-ever charity to put on an overseas charity cycle event, and, in my mind, they’re not only the original but they’re still the best.

Some years ago I had the pleasure of cycling with each of my children.

On one occasion I surprised my daughter, Sophie, by turning up to a challenge she was on in Kerala. I can still hear her shriek when she saw me at the lunch stop. For my son, I so clearly remember the pride of cycling with him on a very long hot day in South Africa. My wife, Loretta, has also been brave enough to join me on two rides. One we did as a tandem team and another she did on her own. Such wonderful memories!

Another poignant memory I have is from a challenge I did riding tandem with a non-verbal young man in Israel. At the end of the week together, having sung the same song on repeat throughout the entire challenge (such a great song!), he was able to sing along with me. What was the song, you ask? “I want to hold your hand” by The Beatles. To this day that memory still brings a tear to my eyes.

So 25 years have passed and despite the years not having been overly kind to my body, I continue to return for more Norwood Challenges. The bonds created between fellow riders are something special and never forgotten.

Rides are tough but the smiles make it all worthwhile.

I want to thank everyone who has helped and supported me along the way. I have raised over £1 million for Norwood on these rides and I wear it as a badge of honour. Norwood helps so many people in our community enjoy a better and fuller life.

I cannot recommend Norwood Challenges enough – they really are good for the soul.

The next Norwood Challenge taking place is an Italy Three Lakes Cycle in May 2019. To find out more about this and other events taking place next year, go here.