In­jured sol­diers epic ride

Bay News - - FRONT PAGE - By Re­becca Mauger [email protected]

Dave Ben­fell and a team of Ki­wis have com­pleted an epic 2500km Bluff to Cape Reinga tan­dem bike ride to raise money for in­jured sol­diers.

Ev­ery­one is tired but elated, says the ex-sol­dier from Brook­field.

“It’s just been such an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The amount of con­fi­dence you get when you fi­nally ar­rive at Cape Reinga is dif­fi­cult to ex­plain. There have been so many good things come out of this.”

One of those good things is the con­fi­dence Dave and the riders have ex­pe­ri­enced hav­ing reached their goal of rid­ing on tan­dem bi­cy­cles for 20 days cy­cling and rais­ing­money for his char­ity Sol­diers, Sailors, Air­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand (SSAANZ).

“You get to see their faces and re­alise the jour­ney they have been on . . . they are so proud of them­selves. It is not just a phys­i­cal jour­ney but amen­tal jour­ney.”

Op­er­a­tion Ride 2018 is the first of its kind and was or­gan­ised by the Pil­grim Ban­dits UK, spe­cial forces veter­ans who use their train­ing to help and in­spire in­jured per­son­nel. SSAANZ is the Kiwi an­swer to the Pil­grims.

Op­er­a­tion Ride 2018 in­volved in­jured sol­dier­swith sup­port teams fromNew Zealand, Canada and theUK. Each char­ity raised money and SSAANZ raised about $13,000.

The bike ride started on Oc­to­ber 28 in Bluff and the riders landed in Cape Reinga on Novem­ber 16, ju­bi­lant to have com­pleted the trip.

The pur­pose-built re­cum­bent tan­dem cy­cle were not easy to ride, Dave says.They broke down of­ten.

“Rid­ing the tandems is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from rid­ing a reg­u­lar bike. If the per­son in the front doesn’t work, the per­son at the back will be shat­tered.”

Dave, from Brook­field, says there were big mo­ments along the way.

“There were four or five guys from the UK who were just sup­port­ers who raised money but they helped on the tandems and rode the en­tire trip. They re­ally stepped up.”

There was also the vet­eran who car­ried his wheelchair­bound buddy over his back to see the look­out atMount Vic­to­ria. They were wel­comed with food and open arm­swhere ever they went.

Op­er­a­tion Ride started as a race, Dave says.

“But what it ended up was as an big com­bined ef­fort. We all helped each other out when they were sick or tired . . . the race went by the way­side. Ifwe didn’t do that we wouldn’t have made it.”

The cy­cling sol­diers in­cluded those with am­pu­tated legs, burns and brain in­juries.

“It’s hard to say you are hav­ing bad day when you look at team­mates and the in­juries they have en­dured . . . a lot of stuff we com­plain about is rub­bish. We’re re­ally lucky in New Zealand.”

Sol­diers, Sailors, Air­men’sAs­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand (SSAANZ)

Dave took up or­gan­is­ing Op­er­a­tion Ride from the New Zealand side, for the Pil­grims to raise money and aware­ness of SSAANZ.

“SSAANZ is try­ing to stop the iso­la­tion. Iwant to stop peo­ple from strug­gling. We’re try­ing to cre­ate a pos­i­tive model through ac­tiv­i­ties and ad­ven­ture sports— work­shops such as snow­board­ing, trout fish­ing, hunt­ing or fam­ily fun week­ends.”

Dave was in the first bat­tal­ion Royal New Zealand In­fantry Reg­i­ment from 1996-2001. He joined the UK army and the Para­chute Reg­i­ment, serv­ing nine years. He was in­jured in 2009 af­ter join­ing the Red Devils freefall team. He doesn’t want con­tem­po­rary sol­diers to be for­got­ten.

“There are more con­tem­po­rary veter­ans than there has ever been. And we are for­got­ten. “That’s why I started this char­ity. I want them to know that we ap­pre­ci­ate their ser­vice. It’s kind of a thank you to them.”

SSAANZ will now run­ning the Pil­grim’s branch in New Zealand.

Check them out on Face­book.

PHO­TOS / Supplied.

Dave Ben­fell, front, with sup­port rider Gary Jones from the United King­dom dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Ride. In­set: Twenty days cy­cling cul­mi­nates at their fi­nal stop, Cape Reinga.

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