The ride departed Portsmouth, UK on May 20th and was set to cover more than 500km over 6 days. While a ride of this magnitude would be a huge undertaking for anyone, this one had a special element to it. The ride was established by the UK organization Help for Heroes and toured past many significant battlegrounds from World War I and II. When we found out that the Canadian troops from Wounded Warriors were invited to join Big Battlefield Bike Ride, we immediately planned to provide bikes for the 22 soldiers and reservists up for the challenge.
In early 2012, Cervélo employee and member of the Canadian Forces Michael Clarry, introduced us to the Wounded Warriors. The Wounded Warriors are a not for profit organization that helps Canadian Forces Soldiers who have been wounded or injured in service to our country. According to Executive Director Scott Maxwell, their focus is to find solutions for those individuals who have gaps in support with a primary focus on mental health.
“Clearly they weren’t prepared for it” was Glen’s first impression of the Wounded Warriors during a ceremony to present the bikes to the riders in Toronto. Part of the ceremony involved a short ride along Toronto’s lakefront in bitterly cold temperatures. And despite some of the riders being dressed in shorts, t-shirts and running shoes, everyone braved the temperatures to board their bikes for the first time.
“’Wow’ was pretty much the first thing out of everyone’s mouth,” recalls Glen. “They couldn’t believe how fast they could get going. You take for it for granted if it is something that you always do, but it was awesome to see this tough group experience it for the first time.”
Glen walked away from the presentation thinking that he had already experienced a life-changing event. A week later, he was invited by the Wounded Warriors to undertake the Big Battlefield Bike Ride to offer support as a more experienced rider and pass on some of his road and mechanical knowledge. While he was flattered by the invite, it was not a decision that he made lightly.
“I was torn as to whether I would go or not. The ride was considered part of the treatment for the soldiers facing post war related stress and issues,” recalls Glen. “I just didn’t know if I had any place in all of that.” After seeking advice from Mike, he recognized that he had a real benefit to offer those riding such a great distance for the first time. Four weeks later, he found himself in the UK ready to ride.
Those who have met Glen know that he is not the most serious or somber of personalities. Affable and approachable, Glen can be a bit of the ‘class clown’ type who might be best described as a cross between Drew Carrey and Robin Williams, only funnier (I know, just try to picture it…). Not the shy type, he generally has no problem making new friends.
“I didn’t know what to think… I showed up to the airport in Toronto and met 22 folks. I didn’t know their stories or anything,” recounts Glen. “It was like hanging out with any group of buddies.” At the airport, his experience in the bike world came in handy. As anyone who has travelled with a bike knows, it adds a whole new level of challenge to the airport. Try doing that with 22 riders and 22 bikes. Glen’s expertise was called on once again when, two days before the ride started, those 22 new riders stood in the hotel courtyard trying to assemble their 22 new Cervélo rides.
The first day was the easiest day of the ride with a short spin down to the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard. Here, the group received a send off from the HMS Victory before boarding the ferry to Le Havre. The 22 Canadians joined the 325 members of Help for Heroes from the UK. Welcomed by the hospitality of the massive group, Glen quickly felt as though he was ‘one of the guys.’
“It was tough, it was hard riding but we had all day to do it. There were stops along the way.” Glen remembers that the second day was challenging and group-riding experience was absent. “Simple things like pointing out potholes or road furniture, you don’t even think about it but it is something that you have to tell someone.” That first night, Glen remembers making repairs to five bikes from his group. After fixing them up, he was sure to share some tips for staying safe as a group on the road during a ‘team meeting’ at the hotel.
With every hour on the bike, the riders became more comfortable. And, as they progressed down the road, Glen found that he was quickly learning more than he was teaching in hearing the stories of his ride mates.
“[It was a] Learning experience for me as well, because there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know,” Glen tells me of visiting the memorial at the River Somme. “You learn about it in school but you are so removed. The Battle of the Somme World War I memorial, there are 80,000 names of soldiers that were never found.” He continues on to tell me about the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundlander’s monument and how, as the story goes, so many Newfoundlander lives were lost in battle that there was concern that the population from the Island would be endangered.
“That was the day when it really started to sink in for me what we were dealing with. That was the start of the emotions for me. I found my name on there 3 times. We are just lucky to be born now.” Clearly being faced with the reality of battle has a profound effect, even on our typically light-hearted Territory Manager.
Of course, they were still finding time to have fun. According to Glen the group “got a lot of mileage out of Arras,” meaning that they had always found a clever way to work the name of the French town into a sentence such that it would illicit contagious laughter. At the end of the day, it was a group of guys bonding over a ride through breathtaking countryside.
By the time the riders were coming into Vimy ridge, the group had united into a true peloton. According to Glen “they looked pro” riding two abreast smoothly and effortlessly. Vimy has a special place in Canadian history symbolic as much for the sacrifice as for the victory by the Canadian forces. It is largely thought of as a ‘coming of age’ for the Nation. “I don’t know if it was the pride of the day at Vimy or if they had really figured it out… or both. It is my proudest day as a Canadian, an absolutely surreal moment. Something I will never forget.”
Looking back on the experience, Glen defines this ride as one that has changed his entire out look on life. From the stories to the new friendships; from the experience of riding through the French countryside and stumbling upon a cemetery, realizing that is where someone fought and died, Glen will never think of sacrifice the same way again. And when asked if he would do the ride again, he doesn’t hesitate to say yes. “It’s something that made sense and we had to be a part of.”
More about the Wounded Warriors:
Founded in 2006, Wounded Warriors is a non-profit organization that helps Canadian Forces members – be they full time or reservists – who have been wounded or injured in their service to Canada since 1990. We help find solutions for current and former members of the Canadian Forces where gaps have left them in need. While providing programs to all members of the Canadian Forces who have been wounded or injured, our primary focus is on reservist mental health. Our secondary focus is on physical health support, and tertiary focus is on life skills development for all members of the Canadian Forces who have been wounded or injured. In general, our effort is roughly allocated as follows:
- 60% of our resources to pursuing mental health initiatives – especially for reservists;
- 30% to physical health support; and
- 10% to the development of life skills.
More on the Big Battlefield Bike Ride