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Amputee veterans and firefighters take on JoGLE challenge


By David G Scott

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Ten amputee military veterans have joined forces with firefighters to ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End in support of a comrade with motor neurone disease (MND).

The challenge of nearly 1000 miles will take the team of veterans and emergency service personnel 13 days to complete, using pushbikes and handbikes as well as specially adapted tandems.

The operation will be a fundraising and awareness-raising event for MND and the charity Pilgrim Bandits which organises gruelling expeditions for injured service and emergency personnel, many of whom are amputees or have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pilgrim Bandits at John O'Groats on Monday morning.
Pilgrim Bandits at John O'Groats on Monday morning.

Pilgrim Bandits’ motto is "always a little further" – pushing veterans beyond what they thought was possible to build confidence.

Pilgrim Bandits teamed up to run the expedition, Operation Ride UK, with veteran and ex-firefighter John Chart (49) who was diagnosed with MND a year ago.

He said: “Motor neurone disease is a demonic disease. It is like an assassin – it sneaks up on you and it’s like someone’s got a remote control and it’s just closing my body down gradually."

Together with John’s team of ex-military and serving firefighters, the Pilgrim Bandits team left John O’Groats on Monday morning.

The expedition will be the first since lockdown was announced and, with many of the team having been shielding, they said they can’t wait to get started. The operation is being supported by another military charity – Vetrun180. Volunteers from Vetrun180, who are injured veterans themselves, will be organising logistics like preparing food and setting up camp for the riders.

Wick Tesco donated high-protein snacks and other food to sustain the team over the challenge.

Pilgrim Bandits with their trolley load of protein goodies kindly donated by Tesco in Wick.Pictures: Pilgrim Bandits
Pilgrim Bandits with their trolley load of protein goodies kindly donated by Tesco in Wick.Pictures: Pilgrim Bandits

MND is a fatal and incurable neurodegenerative disease, with a life expectancy of three to five years of symptom onset. Six people a week die from the condition and another six are diagnosed. As a firefighter for 26 years, John said he was "devastated" by the diagnosis but determined to fight it. He is using a specially adapted tandem and is riding with various companions including his 14-year-old son Christopher.

John added: "I want to raise awareness, I want to see the devastation of what it does to you, but I also want to say to people don’t ever give up. You’ve got to keep going. Don’t ever give up.”

John is determined to raise awareness of MND and has already received support from Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who posted a photo on Instagram of her wearing a ‘MND Warrior’ t-shirt in support of the challenge.

Motor neurone disease sufferer John Chart, second from right, at John O'Groats.
Motor neurone disease sufferer John Chart, second from right, at John O'Groats.

Joining the expedition is former lance corporal Tyler Christopher, who was injured in Afghanistan in August 2009 after standing on an IED bomb, which resulted in the loss of both his legs above the knee. He said training had been going well, adding: “I’m really looking forward to this challenge and seeing everyone on it.

"I've really missed the comradeship and the company as I was in lockdown in a very isolated area. I had my family around, but military friendships are different.”

The CEO of Pilgrim Bandits, Matt Hellyer, will be leading the expedition. He said: “We are proud to be riding with John – raising awareness and funds for MND and Pilgrim Bandits."

The expedition's progress can be followed via the Pilgrim Bandits Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram feeds and via John’s page Cycle Challenge for MND or on Instagram @cyclechallange4mnd.

Donations can be made to Pilgrim Bandits via the Operation Ride UK Total Giving fundraiser page.

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