Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Pair conquer seven peaks in aid of girl’s back surgery

Pair conquer seven peaks in aid of girl’s back surgery

TWO men from Goring cycled 340km across seven peaks in the Alps to raise money for a teenage girl’s spinal operation.

Andrew Markham and Barney Kent finished the challenge in four days.

They were riding for Orla Astles-Jones, 13, a keen dancer, gymnast and athlete who has had to give up her hobbies due to scoliosis and kyphosis.

The conditions, which she developed  last year, mean the spine has curved out of alignment and her posture is becoming hunched.

The NHS can treat her but only by fusing her spinal discs, making her permanently less flexible, so her mother Nicola is raising money for an operation in which a corrective brace will be attached to part of her backbone.

Orla, a pupil at Langtree School in Woodcote, will undergo this procedure at St George’s Hospital in London next Friday.

So far her mother and supporters have raised about £22,000 through various sponsored challenges.

Mr Kent, 44, planned to tackle the mountain ride anyway and wanted to support the family as his daughter Ava, 11, has been friends with Orla since they both attended Goring Primary School.

Mr Markham, 49, is also friends with the family. He and Mr Kent are cycling partners and rode from London to Paris for charity in 2015.

The pair’s first climb was 6,100ft up Alpe D’Huez in France before resting for the night.

Over the next two days they rode up Col de Ornon, Col du Festre, Col St Jean, Col de Parque Tout and Col de L’Homme Mort.

Finally, they conquered Mont Ventoux, called the “giant of Provence” as it is 6,272ft and part of the Tour de France route.

They rode as part of a larger group from 9am to 4pm each day in temperatures ranging from freezing to 27C.

A support crew accompanied them to provide food, drink and extra clothing nearer the colder summits. The cyclists climbed a total of 6,568m on gradients as steep as 12 per cent.

Mr Kent, who lives in Mill Road with his wife Lindsey, said: “It was a very enjoyable ride but also very painful.

“We were lucky with the weather because it snowed heavily afterwards but was surprisingly pleasant while we were there.

“I somehow got lost on the first day and didn’t realise I was on the wrong slope until we were about 4km along, when we turned around and got ourselves back on track. It wasn’t too bad as that session was more of a warm-up.

“It’s funny because Andrew was with a different group and thought he was behind me so he was really pushing hard to ‘catch up’. He realised what had happened as he was coming down and passed me still pedalling to the top.”

Mr Kent said the heat on the three full days made the constant exertion harder.

He said: “Sometimes the gradient was ‘only’ seven per cent but that’s still tough by normal standards. Any steeper than that and it’s like cycling up Streatley Hill except it goes on for many kilometres. The final day wasn’t as intimidating as there was only one mountain to climb so you could focus your mind on that. There was a huge downhill section to look forward to at the end.

“It was difficult but I just focused on ticking off one kilometre at a time. All I could think when I reached the top was ‘right, when can I get lunch and a drink?’.

“It was exhausting but the views were incredible.

“I was proud to finish but on the way down I passed a man cycling up with only one arm and one leg, which brought me back to earth a bit.

“We are both delighted to have helped raise money for Orla. She’s had so much support and the community has really got behind her.”

Mr Markham, of Springfield End, said: “It was a great couple of days — it was incredibly rewarding, although it’s also probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

“I don’t know if I’d do it again but the fact that we raised money for such a good cause made it all worthwhile.”

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