Cycling for a purpose

posted Apr 4, 2014, 5:17 AM by Danang Beach
Viet Nam is a country which, in the recent past, has seen the ravages of war first-hand.  However, the majority of us in the western world are lucky.  We go through life relatively untouched by wars.  We read about them in newspapers, we hear about them on the news, and we watch them in films.  What we don’t do, though, is experience the devastation that is caused by warfare.  We don’t see loved ones who have been severely maimed and wounded by gunfire or bombs, or understand the anguish and heartache that is the result – not just for them, but for every member of their family.

In May 2012, HRH Prince Harry, on being presented with the Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership, said “So many of our servicemen and women have made the ultimate sacrifice; so many lives have been lost and so many changed forever by the wounds that they have suffered in the course of their duties. For these selfless people, it is after the guns have fallen silent, the din of battle quietened, that the real fight begins – a fight that may last for the rest of their lives.”

Help for Heroes is a UK charity which was founded by Bryn and Emma Parry, a British couple who were moved to ‘do their bit’ after visiting a hospital where military personnel with severe injuries were being treated.  Launched on 1 October 2007 and funded by donations from the British public, the aim was to support members of the armed forces who had been injured.  Since then, millions of pounds have been raised and thousands of soldiers have been helped.  After clinical treatment, a nationwide support network offers the next stage of care.  Recovery Centres enable the wounded to continue their recovery, build up their strength, and plan for the future.  This long-term support offers access to life skills courses, training and education, top class sports activites, welfare support and advice – for life.  To read more, please go to http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/.

One way that Help for Heroes raises money is by organising challenge events.  This week, for the first time, two of those events are being held in Viet Nam.  One is a charity trek which is taking place in the Pu Luong Nature Reserve south of Ha Noi.  The other is a charity cycle ride which began in our beautiful city, Da Nang.
Ready for off

On Monday afternoon, 42 cyclists set off from My Khe beach on a physically challenging 300-mile ride around the central provinces.  For this event, Help for Heroes has teamed up with Operation Comfort, a non-profit organisation based in Texas, USA, which supports wounded American service members.  So, healthy supporters will be riding alongside wounded, injured and sick service members from the UK and the USA, and each of them will have raised thousands of pounds for their country’s wounded soldiers.

They’re off!

One couple from the UK are 22-year-old Rachael Vardy, and her fiance, 23-year-old Patrick Davison.  Rachael, from York, is training to be a sports therapist and wants to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers, whilst Patrick is a soldier in the British Army.  “We’ve only been here for a few hours,” said Rachael on Monday, “but we are really impressed with Da Nang and would love to come back in the future.”  This is a wonderful place for a honeymoon Rachael!

This will be an emotional experience for all the members, because the ride takes in many poignant combat sites from the Viet Nam War.  After spending the night in Hoi An, the group cycled back through Da Nang and over the Nam O Bridge ready for the gruelling climb over the Hai Van Pass and on to Hue.  North of Hue, they will cycle around the A Shau Valley and A Luoi, which saw some fierce fighting in the late 1960s, and up to Khe Sanh.  They will visit Lang Vei - a US jungle outpost and the scene of a major siege – and the Khe Sanh Museum, where a ceremony will be held to pay their respects to all those who lost their lives there.

Heading east, they will pass the beautiful hills of The Rockpile, and ride towards the town of Dong Ha.  From there they will head north and cross the Ben Hai River to the Vinh Moc Tunnels which were dug by local people to evade the constant US bombing of the area, and which saved the lives of more than 60 families.

The next stop will be to pay their respects at the Truong Son National Cemetery, a vast burial-ground with over 10,000 Vietnamese graves – many of them nameless – for the soldiers and civilians who died protecting the Ho Chi Minh Trail.   Then it’s a ride through Con Tien and to Dong Ha via a visit to the Truong Phuoc Bridge, and to the Long Hung Church in Quang Tri where another ceremony will be held.  The final part of their journey is the ride back to Hue, where they will spend the night before flying up to Ha Noi and returning home.

The British Ambassador to Viet Nam, Dr Antony Stokes, was unable to be in Da Nang on Monday but he sent a special message for the group.  “I am a great supporter of Help for Heroes and the wonderful work you do.  I send my very best wishes and thanks to all those who are involved in this incredible journey.  As a keen cyclist myself, I wish I could have taken part - although I might have struggled over the Hai Van Pass!  Good luck to you all.”

The Editors and staff at the Da Nang Today newspaper also send their very best wishes.  We thank you for choosing Da Nang for the start of this event, and we are happy to welcome you to our city.  We hope that its history, the kindness you will be shown by Vietnamese people, and your ride through this beautiful and special part of our country, will encourage you to return again one day.  We think that it will!

Written by Carole Kendal

(Source: Danang Today)