Former England Rugby star Will Greenwood takes on gruelling 70km Sierra Leone bike ride for education charity
‘We felt like we’d been on 180 in a fan assisted oven’, said England’s third-highest try scorer of all time
Around 800 runners took part in the 10th Sierra Leone marathon at the weekend, organised by UK charity Street Child, which helps children globally get back into education.
Dubbed the “craziest and most worthwhile marathon” in the world, the arduous race started in the early hours of Sunday in the northern town of Makeni.
For the first time nine cyclists aged 24 to around 60 – many of them “hobby cyclists” – undertook a 70km bike ride alongside the marathon, half-marathon, and other running events.
Among them was former World Cup and grand slam rugby star Greenwood.
The mercury rose to 30C, as the race took cyclists along dirt tracks, through jungle and rural villages, beneath the fierce African sun.
“It felt like being cooked,” Greenwood told the Standard from Sierra Leone. “We felt like we’d been on 180 in a fan assisted oven from about 11.30am.
“The last 10k was really tough, getting hot. But the group kept each other going.
“As someone who’s reasonably fit…the first three or four hours were ‘let’s stop and take photos, isn’t it amazing?’ The last two hours it was ‘how far? how long?’”
But he said the group “felt safe all the time” as they were accompanied by local escorts, as well as a medic and and a mechanic. They finished the 70km route in just under six hours.
Greenwood was accompanied on ride by several colleagues from AI firm Afiniti, where he is Chief Customer Officer, and described the experience as “bonding” and deeply satisfying.
Earlier in the week, he and the other athletes visited a school and small businesses in Sierra Leone that are helped by Street Child.
“They are working to try and maintain what so many of us take for granted – a child’s right to education,” Greenwood, who has 55 international caps and is England’s third-highest try scorer of all time, said of the charity.
“They are working with local communities to make educational establishments independent ecosystems of education.
“I get to go home now and see my kids. They’re at school and they’ve got a roof over their head and they’re well-fed, and they don’t have to walk seven miles to school and back in 35C heat.
“To see the work that Street Child are doing just in this location is one that just, makes you want to be like ‘how can I help?’”
Greenwood, who lives near Maidenhead, has worked as a presenter for Sky Sports and a sports journalist for The Telegraph since retiring from rugby in 2006.
He has previously led fundraising expeditions to summit Kilimanjaro and walked to the North Pole urged anyone keen for a fundraising challenge to consider taking part in the Sierra Leone events.
For more information about Street Child and how to sign up for next year’s marathon or bike ride, visit www.street-child.org.