A cycling obsessed paramedic has achieved his childhood dream after biking the iconic mountain routes of the Tour de France raising funds for a much-loved children’s hospital.
Skegness Ambulance Station’s Gary Matthews spent 10 days travelling through spectacular Alpine scenery as the medic on standby for two British Army regiments on a special challenge expedition.
Having followed the Tour de France from a young age, Gary says he has now achieved one of his lifetime goals and been left awestruck by the incredible beauty of the surroundings.
“The scenery on the climbs was unbelievable, it was like a fantasy land - parts of it seemed almost prehistoric,” he said.
“When you’re hopping between mountain tops and the bottom of ravines, it really is out of this world.”
Gary was cycling with the 5th and 16th British Army regiments, who just two days prior to the start of the journey had been devastated by the brutal murder of their fellow soldier Lee Rigby, hacked to death on a street in Woolwich.
The killing prompted a show of solidarity from the Prime Minister David Cameron who invited the cyclists to a private reception and photocall at 10 Downing Street, after hearing they were camped in barracks nearby, prior to their departure.
After such an unexpected start to the expedition, the group were in for more shocks - this time from the unprecedented weather, which was atrocious throughout the 973 mile journey, causing several cases of hypothermia and forcing several climbs to be abandoned.
“The weather was vile from start to finish,” said Gary.
“I’ve never seen rain like it - it was really hammering down.
“There were eight days of monsoon type rain, two of snow with horrendous thunderstorms and hail to boot!”
Throughout his travels, Gary scaled such iconic summits from the Tour de France as Alp D’Huez, and the 2,326 metre high Col de la Cayolle, as well as riding through the Monaco Grand Prix course.
Sponsorship for the epic adventure has already topped £500 for the Sheffield Children’s Hospital - where Gary began his career as a porter 25 years ago.
Gary, who also underwent 15 operations for an ear condition at the facility as a child, has praised its first rate quality of care, which he feels is well worth the support.
“They are absolutely amazing and as a leading children’s facility are used by many kids from around here too,” he said.
The paramedic, who lives in Chapel St Leonards with his wife Joanne and 10 year-old son Elliott, has thanked the regiments for inviting him on the ‘life changing’ adventure.
“I would like to thank everyone from the 5th and 16th regiment of the British Army or marking me feel so welcome and looking after me as they have the organisation down to a fine art to do what they did with the camping arrangement in such poor conditions was amazing,” he said.
“Big thanks to my friend Regiment Sergeant Major John Wozniak and Captain Wayne Eynon as well as all my new friends - also good luck to the boys who have gone on tour in Afghanistan.”
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