Quest 79

Number 79 showed up in my life last year. I have no knowledge of numerology, but the constant appearance of the number got me intrigued…

Gold is the 79th element in the periodic table. I spent three years as a geologist researching it, but never saw any – it was so tiny, in the lattice of the rock, that it was barely visible even with a super high powered microscope. Gold has eluded me most of my life (definitely in bike racing until last year!), and to be honest I would always choose silver as colour over gold. But ‘Project Gold’ took hold of me in the run-up to the Rio Paralympics and gold, at last, came my way ☺ Interestingly, the medal I won in Rio was the 79th medal for GB. I went straight from Rio to the Outer Hebrides for peace and tranquillity, where a ferry ran aground and stranded 79 passengers! I have also coincidentally taken significant journeys by handbike and sit-ski at 79 degrees latitude east (Tibet), west (Patagonia) and north (Greenland). Number 79 has now led to a new project.

As an ex-climber, I often hear about climbers doing the 7 summits – the highest summit on each continent, and so I’ve decided to create an alternative – a significant ride on each. Quest 79 will involve me travelling to 7 continents in 9 significant handbike rides. Nine rides not just 7 because the project will also include two Paralympic Games, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, embodying the ‘Spirit in Motion’ motto of the Paralympics. I obviously can’t guarantee selection for Tokyo, but I can guarantee to be there, doing a ride in some shape or form! The aim is to raise awareness and £79 K for the Spinal Injuries Association, a charity close to my heart who provide fantastic support and services to people whose lives are suddenly and drastically changed by spinal cord injury.

I also hope that other people will simultaneously take on their own Quest 79. I want people to try something new, and in the process discover themselves. Stretching our boundaries and doing something a little out of our comfort zone usually brings great rewards. We just need the courage to begin and perseverance to persist. It doesn’t have to be physical – it could be anything connected to number 79 – with the idea that people find a passion, bring friends and people together and perhaps help others at the same time by raising money for a good cause. I’m calling this ‘finding your inner gold’.

Where will the Quest 79 rides be?
See the Quest 79 link on my website for more info about the planned rides.

What is the next Quest 79 journey?
On the 18th September, we leave for ‘The Express Way’, cycling from Vancouver, Canada along the Pacific Coast to Mexico. It is 3000 kilometres, and we have 40 days, carrying everything to be self-sufficient including camping kit and of course my wheelchair. Coincidentally, allowing for a few rest days, we’ll need to average 79km a day on the trip! My friend Niall Urquhart is coming with me, and he is currently training hard whilst trying to lose 35kg (79lbs !) before the challenge – it will be the first time he has ever been bike-touring beyond short trips in Scotland. He was injured in March and until recently he was feeling so unconfident that he nearly pulled out, but with some patience, rehabilitation, route planning and gradual training things are back on track. We’re feeling a mix of nerves and excitement for the long ride ahead!

Who is coming on the other ‘Ways’ that are part of Quest 79?
Different friends are joining different rides, and most of them are pushing their comfort zones but enjoying the process. Next year for the ‘Spirit in Motion’ way following the River Ganges from it’s source, my friends Christine Graham, Kevin Benstead and Lorna Campbell are coming along. Christine and Lorna haven’t ridden bikes since childhood until very recently, and Kevin just did his first bike sportive event in 2017.

In the autumn of 2019 will be the ‘Continental Way’: a ride from Britain to Spain, and we aim for Spinal Injuries Association members will have the opportunity to join this ride at some point.

What kind of challenges are other people doing with Quest 79?
Michelle O’Connell has just given up driving to work, to walk 79 miles over three weeks, to and from work. She is now in the process of cycling 79 miles, and after that is planning to swim 79!
In October 2017, coinciding with ‘The Express Way’, Catriona Macleod plans to try and run 79 miles during three weeks, then to progressively reduce the time it takes until she gets as close to running 79 miles in a day as possible. She is a busy working mum and hopes her kids will run with her sometimes. Catriona says “Long-distance running is an aspiration, far from a natural talent. I’m recovering from a stress fracture in my leg but I’m continually inspired by others feats of endurance and want to inspire myself – and hopefully my kids – by jumping into my stretch zone.”

In April 2018, coinciding with ‘The Water Way’, Mark Pitcher plans to run his first marathon, and in the process recruit 79 people to commit to donating blood. A child in his family has a rare condition called Myelodysplastic Syndrome, MDS (which coincidentally my mum also had!), a condition for which life expectancy can be greatly extended with frequent blood transfusions.

The Moray Scout group are planning a 79-mile journey through the Great Glen in Scotland, challenging themselves and raising money for the Spinal Injuries Association in the process. An Aberdeenshire scout also informed me that he plans to drum for 79 hours!

And if you are considering taking on a challenge for yourself…
When I was first paralysed it was hard to imagine I could ever learn to sit up in bed without the use of my abdominal muscles or get dressed. The idea of cycling across mountains or winning Paralympic medals was no-where on my radar! Everything in life comes step by step. When we accomplish one small thing that we never imagined possible, then our mind extends to consider what next. I’m intimidated by the prospect of Quest 79 just now, but experience tells me that with belief in self, in the strength of our spirit, in our ability to overcome, and with the kindness of people, many things become possible.

Quest 79 free e-book
I have tried to collate some helpful ideas in a collection of short stories from my adventures and experiences in sport. Each story comes with a positive psychology anecdote that will hopefully help you with your own Quest 79. This is currently at print and will soon be available, also as an e-book thanks to supporting from Awards for All. The e-book is available free of charge but we are asking you to consider a donation, all of which will go to the Spinal Injuries Association fundraising effort and can be made on my website.

A massive thank you to Adidas and BBraun for being principal sponsors of Quest 79, and also to the other companies who are helping with kit and support: Willams F1, Tiso, Alpine Bikes, Endura, Gerald Simmonds, Amba Marketing, Calico UK & Lyon Equipment.

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