Taking part in the whole of the Tour de Force is probably a pretty mad idea, even by my standards! But there is method in my madness, and thankfully after I dropped the initial bombshell on the team, they shared in that and have signed up too, so we now have the nine-strong Team Leathers. Many more people who work with us would have loved to have taken part too, but felt that physically it was just too much, but their support in other ways means the world to us all.
The idea came to me for a number of reasons. For one, 2015 marks 25 years in business for me and my company, Leathers LLP. To get to 25 years is a real achievement for myself and the team, so deserves marking in a special way. While many people would just have a party, I wanted to do something that was a real lasting tribute to the hard work and tireless dedication that has gone into making this business a success.
Cycling has been a revelation for me. Not so long ago I was 21 stone and very unhealthy. Working long hours and sitting behind a desk all day, the weight crept on bit by bit, until I reached the point where I knew I couldn't go on as I was. In the few years since taking up cycling and being more health conscious, my weight has been much better. At one point I lost 7 stone, and while my weight has fluctuated since, I have never been anything like I was, and credit cycling with changing my whole attitude to health and fitness. In the time I've been training more intensely in preparation for the Tour de Force, my weight has dropped again – I'm now known by some as 'The Shrinking Partner'! Looking at pictures of me from a few years ago, even I think I'm pretty unrecognisable. My youngest daughter says she loves how she can now get her arms all the way round me when she hugs me, which makes me feel fantastic.
After my previous scrapes with death, you may have think I'd give things like the Tour de Force a wide berth. I've had three occasions where I really thought my time was up:
When I had a canoeing accident on Victoria Island, where I got stuck underwater under the canoe;
After I fell down Blencathra mountain during a walking trek
When I almost fell off a disused railway bridge in Durham while out cycling.
While the Tour de Force is definitely the most extreme thing I've ever taken on, I do hope it is the least eventful!
But the main part for me is the charity aspect – I desperately want to raise £50,000 for the William Wates Foundation. It's not a charity that most people have heard of, I know I hadn't come across it before, but when you research the reasons for it being established and the work it has done to support such crucial projects in local communities, you realise just how special it really is. I really want to use this opportunity for myself, the team and Leathers LLP to raise as much as we possibly can for this brilliant cause. While it's our 25th anniversary, I don't want any congratulations or gifts, I would like donations to our charity and in support of our efforts. It's our chance to do something amazing and to give something back to society – this money will make such a huge difference to their work. Please support us!