Thursday, 12 February 2009

Bike Africa 2009

Do me the courtesy of ignoring the fact that this picture looks a little like a bizarrely inappropriate funeral cortege.

On the left are three old classmates of mine, Maghnus Collins-Smyth, Orla Duggan and Brian O'Shea.

In a few months the two lads, and another pal of their's from college, are heading off to cycle the length of Africa in aid of charity (much to the distress of their mothers).

As far as I know, Orla hasn't taken them up on the offer of joining them just yet.

"Madness," I hear you say. "What ever happened to holding a good old fashioned table quiz?"

But, in fairness to the lads, it's an incredibly noble act that will cost them a fair bit of their own money (seen as they're financing all their own expenses).

They've worked themselves to the bone organising fundraisers, such as a Valentine's ball/hooley/piss-up/lunatic convention in the Clarion this weekend, and I was glad to give them a bit of publicity in this week's Leader.

The full article is below and a link to their site, where you can read about their charities and make a donation, is on the right hand side of this page. Anything you can give is greatly appreciated.

Piece that featured in the Leader this week:

WITH a rock-hard cast stretching from his ankle to upper thigh, Maghnus Collins-Smyth does not appear like a man who, in a matter of months, will embark on a 95-day, 8,000-kilometre charity cycle along the length of Africa.

Admittedly, his scraggly beard, ruffled hair and casual dress all give off the impression of a young aspiring explorer, keen to satisfy his wanderlust before joining everyone else in the real world. The admission, however, that he doesn’t actually own a bike doesn’t do any favours for that particular image.

“O’Shea has two bikes at home so I’ll be able to do all my road practice using one of them once I’ve got the cast off,” he explains, while attempting - without any great degree of success - to get comfortable on a stool too low for someone in his predicament.

“We’re getting touring bikes for the actual trip then, they’re a hybrid between a mountain bike and racer to cope with all the different terrains.”

The cast was put in place five weeks ago, following an operation to stabilise the 24-year-old Parteen native’s knee, and is due to be removed this weekend. Although scheduled to take place several months later, Maghnus explains that the procedure was kindly brought forward by Professor Masterson in Croom Hospital, after he outlined his ambitious plans for the summer.

“O’Shea” is Maghnus’s former Crescent College classmate, current Old Crescent clubmate - and luckily the owner of two bikes - Brian O’Shea, from Monaleen. Along with Coleraine-based David Burns - whom they met through college friends - Maghnus and Brian will spend this summer pedalling from Cairo in Egypt to Cape Town in South Africa, taking in Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Swaziland along the way.

After making inquiries about working for a charity in Africa several months ago, Maghnus found his options limited by a combination of an old injury and the worldwide recession. Thus Bike Africa 2009 was born.

“I fractured three vertebrae in my back on a building site a few years ago and because of that, I wouldn’t be able for the kind of consecutive days of labour and lifting that would be expected of you with some charities,” he explains.

“I looked into working with a few AIDS Education organisations but they said that because of the times, it would be more beneficial to raise funds. This seemed like a way of getting to see Africa while also doing our bit and contributing money to those who need it so badly.”

While Maghnus had already identified this summer as the period when he would fulfil his dream of travelling to Africa, Brian received the push he needed when he, along with 200 other Kostal workers in Abbeyfeale, was asked to take voluntary redundancy.

“I knew Maghnus was doing it and it sounded like an incredible experience but it wasn’t until the redundancies were announced that it became a possibility for me too,” he says.

“I have four weeks to spare in between our departure date and when I finish up in Abbeyfeale. It actually suits me perfectly because I can really crank up the training for that final month.”

Before departing for Africa, Maghnus, Brian and David have planned a number of fundraising events, the first of which is a Valentine’s Ball at the Clarion Hotel this weekend which sold out several weeks ago. A quiz night, an evening of fine dining, an auction and a golf classic have also been planned for the coming weeks.

For now, Friends in Ireland, Out of Africa Mission Sports Academy and St Gabriel’s school in Limerick have been selected as beneficiaries of the fundraising efforts. However, the cycling trio have been in contact with - and plan to visit - a number of different charities en route and add them to that list.

Each of the three are keen to emphasise that all the proceeds from their fundraising will go towards their selected charities, not travel expenses.

“We reckon it will cost us about €3,500 each to do the cycle and we’re raising that ourselves,” says Brian. “We think we’ll be spending about €10 a day there but you have to factor in flights, visas, spare parts, medication, tents and our immunisation injections. We’re hoping to get the bikes sponsored so anyone that’s interested can get in touch with us through the website.”

With Maghnus soon to be released from his plaster of Paris prison, conditioning work will dominate his, Brian’s and David’s lives until they leave in June. The latter’s father is a doctor - which has come in useful for their immunisation jabs - but he has also given dietary and exercise advice, recommending that each of them gain a stone so as to combat inevitable weight loss in the summer.

As well as preparing their bodies for the strain of cycling 600 kilometres a week from one side of the equator to the other, the three have also been stocking up on equipment necessary for three months spent on the road.

“We’re getting a high-frequency transmitter to keep rabid dogs from out tents at night. Obviously we’ll have to get a strong tent as well and make sure to pitch it carefully so there won’t be any unexpected visitors,” Maghnus says.

“We’ve been getting tips and advice from a Dutch couple who are cycling our route at the moment but they’re doing it from South Africa to Egypt. They’ve told us that lions and most other wild animals tend to stay away from the roads we’ll be camping near so hopefully that won’t be an issue either.”

Most young males won’t be surprised to find that one of the toughest obstacles Maghnus and Brian have encountered in their preparations thus far has been convincing their mothers to give their approval.

“Well they didn’t believe us at first,” says Brian. “But when they started seeing roadmaps arriving in the post and saw us doing proper research, they knew it was happening. It took a bit of convincing but we’ve assured them we’ll be fine. I have my sister’s wedding to be back for in September so I’ll be taking every precaution.”

Maghnus, Brian and David have set up a website,, featuring their charities of choice and updates on their fundraising events. The site also features a service allowing visitors to make an unspecified donation using a credit of laser card. Donations can also be made by texting KEY AFRICA to 53341, deducting €2.60 from your credit. They also expressed their thanks to Tony Connolly Menswear, Snap Printing and the Clarion Hotel for their support.

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