This time last year, Cheryl West was, like most working mums, occupied with dividing her attentions between her work, family and friends. With three school-age daughters and a demanding job as CSG’s Technical Waste Assessor, at our Cadishead depot, she knew all about the difficulties of maintaining a suitable work-life balance – but something was to change her perspective so significantly, it led her to do things she never thought possible.
Seven years previously, she’d struck up a friendship with Angela Sharples, another of the mums at her daughter’s nursery and the two soon became best friends. Unfortunately, Angela was diagnosed with cancer but after treatment, seemed to have successfully fought it off. In September 2016, she found out that it had spread to her liver. In November, Angela died.
Jolted by such a sharp reminder of mortality, the effect on Cheryl was immediate. “Angela had been a runner, was adventurous and visited places like New York and Las Vegas. I felt I had to do something like that so I bought a bike that week. I had no idea what I was going to do but I needed to do something.”
Initially, the plan was to participate with her friend, Carolyn, in the London to Brighton ride (54 miles, done in one day) but when Carolyn suggested they opted instead for London to Paris (280 miles, done over four days), Cheryl agreed. “I didn’t really give the distance much thought – I just thought they were both a long way”.
By Christmas, their place on the ride was booked and from January, Cheryl started her training with Saturday rides. “I hadn’t ridden a bike for about ten years and had never ridden a road bike before. The first time out, I did about a hundred yards and just thought ‘No’. I had no idea about where to ride so I rode around a circuit in a housing estate again and again and did about four miles. I wasn’t particularly confident.”
Despite her perseverance, Cheryl knew she was doing things the hard way and joined Breeze, a ladies-only cycling group for beginners. “I was soon doing eight-mile rides, the group was helping me and my confidence was much higher.”
As the weeks wore on, Cheryl had raised her level to participating in 16-mile rides, was introduced to the Bury Clarion Cycling Club and invited on a 30-mile ride. By March, she’d participated in a ladies’ night ride around Bury in support of Bury Hospice – a distance of 60 miles – and booked herself on a training weekend, which involved 90 miles of riding. Clearly, the cycling bug had struck.
In early June, she completed the ‘Tour de Manc’, around 64 miles: “That was hard – the first 20 miles were flat, then came the hills…”, before the time came to take on the London to Paris ride, broken into four days between June 22nd and 25th: London to Dover (followed by a ferry crossing to Calais), Calais to Abbeville, Abbeville to Beauvais and Beauvais to Paris. “I didn’t know what to expect in France. There were hills but they didn’t seem the same – they seemed easier than at home. There was some great scenery, some pretty villages, especially Beauvais, and it was amazing to ride along the Seine. Wherever we went, there was lots of support.”
And then, of course, came Paris. Like the Tour de France, the ride was to hold its closing stages along the famous Champs-Élysées, a route which involves some particularly unfriendly cobbled areas. Unlike, ‘le Tour’, Cheryl’s finish involved negotiating the traffic – and the whims of Parisian drivers – around the Arc de Triomphe. If you’ve ever driven around that part of Paris, you may find that fact alone as impressive as the achievement of cycling almost 300 miles in four days!
Having completed her mission, Cheryl is well on the way to raising £2,500 for Bolton Hospice, in memory of Angela – with CSG pleased to contribute £500 towards her target. Seemingly, she’s undergone a lifestyle transformation to achieve her goal and honour her friend. Does this mean she’ll be back to do it all again next year?
“No. The thing I learnt most from Angela is to do different things, find new experiences. When I spoke to older riders, it struck me how many stories they had to tell, how varied their experiences were. Carolyn and I only have this experience so we decided that if we do something different every year, in a few years’ time, we’ll have that level of experience. We may do another ride – we’ve looked at one in Italy but I’m not sure about all the hills! One thing we are going to do next year is kayaking in the fjords of Norway. I’ll still have my beach holidays but I’ve decided that we need to do different things as well.”
Before all that, Cheryl will be back in the saddle to do a 100-mile ride around the North West of England in September, another challenge that requires a level of training – with an unforeseen bonus: “My middle daughter, who’s a good swimmer, has become interested in cycling. If she wants to start riding, I’ll certainly be glad of another training partner!”
It’s no exaggeration to use the phrase ‘life-changing’ to describe Cheryl’s experiences of the past year. Through tragedy, she’s gained a new perspective, raised thousands for charity and given inspiration from a friend’s memory. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” sang John Lennon in ‘Beautiful Boy’, his ode to his son, Sean. In her efforts to commemorate Angela’s example, Cheryl has broken the cycle of work and home and, through her efforts, reminded us that we all need to make time to live. C’est la vie…