AFPST Ride of Steel

19-22 July 2019
Follow us on #AFPSTSpirit
As part of its ongoing charitable commitment to the UK’s Armed Forces Para-Snowsport Team (AFPST), Leonardo organised the Ride of Steel (19-22 July 2019) in aid of the charity, with staff from Leonardo’s UK sites cycling from their site to converge on Sheffield, ahead of the UK Invictus Trials opening ceremony.

Every year, the UK’s Armed Forces Para-Snowsport Team (AFPST) plays a powerful role in the recovery of injured and sick serving personnel and veterans. This sporting activity rebuilds their self-confidence and competitive spirit, through snowsport activities which give them the opportunity to build a new identity as a winter sports competitor.

Leonardo is now in its tenth year of supporting AFPST, working to make a lasting contributing to the freedom, rehabilitation and transformation of the wounded, injured or sick military personnel and veterans. In 2014, Leonardo organised the Ride of Thrones, cycling from Edinburgh Castle to the Tower of London, and in 2017 the company organised Spirit of Challenge, with staff taking on a variety of personal sporting challenges to raise money.

In 2019, Leonardo organised the Ride of Steel event to raise money for this worthwhile cause. From Yeovil, 20 riders cycled 232 miles to Sheffield, 7 riders from Basildon cycled 238 miles over 4 days, a team of 12 riders from Luton and Lincoln cycled more than 180 miles to Sheffield in three days, 7 cyclists undertook the 220-mile ride from Southampton and two rode the 200 miles from Bristol.

The final day saw all 49 Ride of Steel cyclists ride en masse to the Sheffield arena ahead of the UK Invictus Trials Opening Ceremony on Monday 22 July. There are strong links between AFPST and the Invictus Games, with several AFPST athletes having competed in past Games.

To sponsor our riders, please click on the JustGiving links below:

Meet our Teams

A team of seven from Basildon cycled 1,666 miles in total to Sheffield over 4 days. They included Stephen Archer, Leanne Body, David Dodsworth, Roger Furness, Sean Gilbey, Nathan Lark and Leo Karaalp.

A combined team of 12 from Lincoln and Luton cycled in excess of 180 miles to Sheffield over 3 days. Dave Norsworthy and Trudy Stewart were part of their support team.

Remarkably, the majority of the 50 staff in Lincoln are ex forces and have a very close affiliation in particular with the RAF bases which are situated in Lincolnshire, especially RAF Waddington, which is located just four miles away. Lincolnshire is also the home of the world famous Red Arrows, who can invariably be heard and seen practising locally.

Staff at Lincoln were fortunate enough to meet and hear some of the AFPST athletes’ own personal experiences a few years ago when the Lincoln site supported the Spirit of Challenge. This was a truly humbling experience and left staff in no doubt of the challenges these athletes face and how the charity helps them.

The Ride of Steel generated a great deal of interest at Lincoln and volunteers were quick to respond and show their support. The four cyclists who participated from Lincoln, are ex-Servicemen, who, by their own admissions, have also had to deal with various hurdles and struggles throughout their lives and careers. They have been very honest when talking about their experiences and reading through their own biographies, you can see how they can relate to some of the struggles that the AFPST athletes face on a daily basis.

The four cyclists all share a great sense of humour and have bonded during their training sessions, giving 100% effort, supporting and providing invaluable advice and assistance to each of the team members, including those in the support role. We are truly proud to have such a great group from Lincoln who are the very epitome of team work.

The entire Lincoln site was behind all the cyclists taking part. We appreciated how tough this ride would be both physically and logistically, and were thinking of them as they undertook the challenge.

Our Lincoln cyclists were:

Chris Pearson – Systems Engineer

Having served with the RAF for 23 years and now working in industry alongside military and ex-military, it was inevitable that I was going to be involved in this challenge once I’d heard about it. During my Service days, I was a keen cyclist – both motorbike and road – but since leaving 10 years ago, the cycling and regular exercise as a whole have taken somewhat of a back seat. As probably happens to a lot of us as when we descend into middle age, I put weight on and in the last year or so have also been put onto meds to control raised blood pressure. I was feeling sorry for myself by the end of 2018…then...

I saw a TV programme at end of 2018 featuring several members of the Armed Forces who had become disabled through active Service. It put my small problems into perspective and so, at the start of this year and feeling inspired, I decided I needed to “get a grip”! Over the past few months I’ve lost two stone, lowered my blood pressure to where it should be and I’m feeling better than I have done for years. I owe the inspiration for this transformation in part to the people featured in that programme and to all who have been driven to overcome whatever obstacle they encounter in life.

Taking part in this challenge was the icing on the cake for me and enabled me to give something back to those who have, and continue to, inspire me.
Neil Harvey – Typhoon and Instructional expert on LTEWP project

I served for almost 27 years with the RAF as both ground crew and air crew, serving around the world including the Balkans. I was lucky and came away from my military Service physically unscathed but did come into contact with others that were not so lucky.

I’ve always been a bit sporty and have tried to maintain a reasonable level of fitness by running and, in recent years, with triathlon events (a bit like hard work when you like beer and food as much as I do). Recently though, my main focus has been on cycling as I entered and completed this year’s London to Brighton cycle ride for the British Heart Foundation. With that event over, I needed something else to focus on and knew instantly that the Ride of Steel would fill that requirement. Due to my military background, I take an interest in the Invictus games and am never ceased to be amazed, impressed and humbled by the achievements of individuals that take part in it. I feel it was a great honour to be a part of this event and cycling to the event as part as a unified Leonardo team.

Pete Watkins – Engineer

During my military career I was deployed all over the world, working with a wide cross-section of the tri-Service community and have always been impressed by the sheer determination to succeed, teamwork and camaraderie that the Armed Forces community provides; the Ride of Steel is no different, so I jumped at the chance to take part and provide support to this worthwhile cause.

Before leaving the Service, I experienced a period where my well-being was not as I would have expected it, and needed help and support to get through a difficult time. The Armed Forces community is unique in helping each other through adversity, and although my problems were not severe, I consider myself fortunate to have had this support to call on, as without it I know I would have been in a much worse place now. Activities such as the Ride of Steel are important to me, not only because it gives me a way to say thank you to those that helped me, but also for me to show my appreciation for those that continue to provide such inspiration through their battle with their own personal adversities.

Although I would only consider myself as an amateur cyclist, I decided to take the training wheels and shopping basket off my bike and participate in this ride. I have always tried to keep myself active and try new experiences as they arise; whether it is competing in target archery, running half-marathons or riding to Sheffield for the AFPST, I really enjoyed the challenge, raising money and awareness in support of injured Service persons and veterans alike.

Rob McMillan – Senior Internal Auditor

I served with the military from 1995 to 2013, including two years in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers and five years as an RAF Physical Training Instructor, before getting my Commission and serving as a Communications, Electrical Engineering Officer in the RAF. For most of my career I was fit and enjoyed cycling, swimming, squash, skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, canoeing etc. You get the idea.

Being made redundant in 2013 was a huge blow. I landed a job with Leonardo, working in Belgium, delivering cyber capability to the NATO Cyber Defence Platform. However, living overseas away from my family for over two year years, working way too many hours and not doing enough physical exercise took its toll on me; I piled on the weight and lost all motivation.

When I got the role of Senior Internal Auditor and started working in Lincoln, I started to get back into some sort of routine, doing training, rock climbing, swimming and judo. In 2017 we had a talk from the AFPST and I was reminded that, no matter what has happened to you, there is life after the Military and that having regular training and targets to achieve was key to staying focused.

The talk helped me to get over whatever issues I felt that I had, and realise that no matter how upset or annoyed I was with the way I had been treated, I needed to get over that and focus on the positive side. I still had my health, I have my family and am part of a great team; also, the level of banter within the office is excellent. I am now back to training 4 or 5 times a week and have used the charity events in recent years to aide my training routines. The charity events enable me to try and give something back to the guys that helped me come to my senses; even if they did not know it.

I have a huge amount of respect for the athletes that take the opportunity to pick themselves up after life has dealt them a blow. They are a positive light in a sometimes unfair world. I was proud to be able to support the AFPST and fully encourage anyone else to get involved and help make a difference.

A combined team of 12 from Luton and Lincoln cycled in excess of 180 miles to Sheffield over 3 days.

Leonardo's Luton site has a rich and long-standing history supporting the end-users of our products – our equipment serves to both help them see and keep them safe. We pride ourselves on this intimacy as it enables our employees to understand the challenges our Service men and women face, both professionally and personally. The AFPST athletes’ uncompromising commitment to success, undeterred in the face of both physical and mental tribulation, is an inspiration to the Luton Ride of Steel Team. While we faced a gruelling 180+ mile cycle to Sheffield, we realise this was miniscule in comparison to the daily effort and struggle the AFPST Team endures. As such, this was truly an event for an important cause that Luton was excited about – requiring utmost dedication and focus from everyone involved. Our Luton team included:

Steve Thompson – Principal Hardware Engineer

"I've cycled on and off since he was a child and have done London to Brighton on and off road in the distant past. I took part to support the men and women of the armed forces who have paid a heavy price whilst protecting their country."

Luke Morgan – Technical Apprentice

"I’ve been riding for 11 years competitively and riding since I was a toddler. I’ve ridden for Team Great Britain under 18s and been sponsored by various domestic cycling teams and companies. Highlight events most probably are the Youth Olympics and Revolutions track series. I’ve lived out in Belgium racing full time, represented GB for various multi-day stage worldwide tours, and was a fully funded GB Rider for the Olympic Development Team. Due to a string of serious illnesses, which resulted in massive setbacks, I am now working full-time but still doing what I love, racing my bike. I did the Ride of Steel because my passion is cycling, so what better charity event could I get involved with to help raise money for a great cause!?"

Adam Henley – Senior Test Solutions Engineer

"I’ve been riding since I was a child. Done the London to Brighton a few times, Surry London 100 & New forest 100. I took part in this because I got to see people in Lycra!"

John Curtis – Contracts Manager

"I've been cycling forever. According to my Strava app, I’ve cycled 3,111km this year!"

Gary Halliday – Team Leader and Design Authority

"I took up cycling about 12 years ago, in 2007, and participated in my first charity event which was a team relay over three days across four countries in Europe, raising money for Macmillan. I didn’t really do any cycling until my biggest challenge, which was the Home to Rome charity cycle ride in 2010 which we did as a group for the Combined Services Disabled Ski Team, the forerunner of the Ride of Steel charity, AFPST. I did the Ride of Steel because seeing the transformation that the charity had made to the two competitors who joined us on the Home to Rome challenge has made me passionate about supporting this charity. On a personal note, I was motivated by the challenge of the cycling and being part of this significant event."

A team of 20 from Yeovil cycled 232 miles to Sheffield over 4 days.

Several of the Yeovil team are themselves ex-members of the military and have their own personal stories about why they feel particularly motivated to raise funds for the AFPST athletes.

Bob Crosby – Head of UK Government Sales Campaigns

Bob is a retired Army Officer and father of a Captain in the Royal Artillery. He said: “I have a close affinity with the Armed Forces and I am a strong supporter of services welfare charities.  I took up road cycling a number of years ago and I am now an avid participant in sportive events and charity cycle rides.  The Ride of Steel was a challenge that I relished. I was particularly looking forward to the last leg through the Peak District.  The Peak District was the UK’s first National Park and an area that I got to know well during my youth when I was in The Scouts in Nottingham.”

Sebastian Balch – Senior Customer Service Manager

When visiting his son at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham 7 years ago, Sebastian was very moved to see how many service young service personnel were waiting for medical attention with their families. He said: “We are not always aware of just how many wounded, injured and sick service personnel return. When I found out that our company was arranging a charity ‘Ride of Steel’ from our Yeovil site to Sheffield to support the Armed Forces Para-Snowsport Team, I immediately wanted to be a part of it. It was great so many others within the company felt the same and we have an amazing team raring to go. We were proud to be contributing to this worthwhile cause providing injured personnel with an opportunity to rebuild their confidence.”

A team of seven riders from Southampton each cycled 220 miles to Sheffield over five days. The cyclists were Graham Cooke, Keith Buchanan, David Mullett, Robert Bowditch, Adam Greenen, Rob Wilson and Roger Wright, with their invaluable support crew of Ray Oates, Kim Lake and Stuart Coggins.

Matthew Gee and Oliver White were representing Bristol, cycling 200 miles to Sheffield over three days.

Matthew Gee - Graduate Systems Engineer

"When Olly and I heard about the work of the Armed Forces Para-Snowsport Team and our company’s Ride of Steel, we thought it would be a fantastic way to challenge ourselves and  the same time try to support our injured service men and assist in some small way to help them cope with life-changing injuries."

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