Introducing Rebecca Richardson, a Welsh Hill Climb Champion, British Road Bike TT Champion and NOMAN ambassador for 2022.
“NOMAN is an island” this phrase immediately catches my attention. The weak morning sunshine of the November day in 2021 pierces through the high single paned crittall windows of the old workhouse, a relic from the victorian era, a building that was built for the purpose of cleansing the social landscape of “undesirables”. It seems ironic now that as a woman with a young son, I would have been banished to a workhouse like this 100 years ago, classed as one of those undesirables. Tramps and waifs, and folk that preferred to live on the road, were also collected into workhouses. Sat at an old oak long table, salvaged from an old welsh farmhouse, the small open fire alight and bringing some warmth into one of the rooms I rent as an office I listen to Liam’s proposal. I had travelled back into Wales the day before, following a campaign in the bid for glory to be the fastest and strongest hill climber in the country. And yet, I failed to take that trophy on Winnats, and the strong Bithja Jones rose to the top once again. I thought that Bithja fought well, and under the blackened rain torn skies I defeated the odds over many of the other contenders there that day, settling for third place on the podium. It was a good third place, and back in Wales, crossing the ancient borders into the foothills to Snowdonia, I settled back into winter life with little sense of what is to come next, but comfortable with that.
Liam’s proposal is short and concise as ever. Not a coach of many words, his methods of developing athletic performance are clear and simple to follow, and this has worked well. His proposal is like one of his training plans, he offers the bare minimum of information, enough to work with though. He supports a charity called “Noman Campaign”, the charity aims to raise awareness of their campaign through athletic performance and they are partnered with Haute Route, an organisation hosting stage races in Europe. Would I be interested in supporting the charity by racing the Haute Route three day stage centred around the Alpe D’Huez. In return for acting as a NOMAN ambassador, I would commit and train for the hardest cycling challenge yet. I can’t really see a catch, other than the scale-up in training, and after a short bit of research into the charity I am impressed with their mission statement. They campaign to get both boys and girls vaccinated against HPV in the attempt to eradicate 5% of world cancers.
Now, cancer is shit. Really shit. Ben, one of the nicest, most generous hearted people I know, healthy, full of positivity, giving so much time and energy to his family and friends around him. It didn’t make sense when he got cancer just as COVID-19 locked down our country. Disbelief. Ben is one of the softest but toughest of people, a family friend and we grew up being dragged (willingly) around mountain bike trails by Ben, he would lend me and my sisters bikes so we could go out with them and their three boys. Inviting us on their holidays, always an open door to everyone at their home, fabulous summer parties and bands playing into the welsh evening air. And, when I was crippled with Rheumatoid Arthritis, it was Ben who at 2am in the morning arrived at my cottage on my call to the fireman to lift me out and down the stairs. Such was the agonising pain in my joints. He took me back to their house, where Rachel and he cared for me during the night until my mum could take me to A&E. His cancer treatment was the worst kind you can get. Yet, even in hospital as he suffered the awful lonely place of cancer and chemotherapy, he would message and reply to all who contacted him concerned, he had time to give and talk to others during his very lonely time.
And, so it is true, no man is an island, as I think of Ben and the community around him, and thankful that his treatment has come to an end and being a success. I grab a coffee, take a break from work and go for a little bike ride. A bag on my back with supplies and spares, and my mountain bike, I head into the hills. Pedalling across the hills around Llanfyllin, I think about Liam's proposal. I would like to do something to help, I often felt helpless when Ben was ill, and whilst he had the biggest advantage of a huge caring family, it was a hard thing to see someone who you know and care for suffer in this way. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a well known virus that most of the population at some point will contract. As a woman I get tested for HPV as it is a cause of cervical cancer, and yet there is little awareness about the multiple types of cancers it causes in both women and men, including neck, jaw and anal cancer. My son will now get vaccinated in the UK thanks to the Noman Campaign and the work of Tristan its founder. Yet, other European countries have yet to offer the vaccination to boys, choosing only to vaccinate girls. And the vaccination is highly effective 90% according to recent BBC News headlines. The mission of the charity is to ensure that all countries have a vaccination programme for both girls and boys, they lobby at government and community level, and as soon as their mission is complete the charity will no longer be operational. It makes sense.
It all makes sense, and as I ride into the hills around the small town of Llanfyllin, I feel ready to embrace this massive goal and work with Liam to take the commitment to train my heart out and his commitment to coach me to my peak performance all in the name of working together, of making a positive stand against a lonely disease. Embracing the celebration of cycling and scaling the heights of the alpine roads. If people can suffer the path of cancer and treatment then I can suffer the tiniest degree of the pain and fear that cycling brings. You have to be physically and mentally fit to tackle a race like the Haute Route Alpe D’Huez, and to succeed you need support. Racing road bikes is considered to be the most brutal endurance sport and going to a place of pain and suffering on the bike becomes a lonely endeavour, even with all of the support around you.
I think we all feel lonely in our lives at times. Lonely in our paths. Yet cancer is forced upon people, it becomes their only path, which is to survive it. There have been studies that show the correlation between cancer patients who survive having a wide network of support and company. And, I think this much is true about life and our mental wellbeing. I am certain a strong athlete is one who is mentally well and surrounded by family and friends. Noman Campaign brings together cyclists from across the globe to unite under their common banner “NOMAN is an Island” so, I like this banner and I like this idea.