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On Wednesday 5 June, a team of 22 superhero cyclists are taking on the ultimate challenge: cycling 300 miles from London to Amsterdam.

They’ve got four days, four countries and a few thousand pounds to raise for Bristol Children’s Hospital and St Michael’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Meet Jon

Among the intrepid cyclists fundraising for Bristol Children’s Hospital is Jon, the dad of three-year-old Freddie, who has suffered from a rare and complex condition called VACTERL since he was born. 

VACTERL means that some parts of Freddie’s body formed in abnormal ways during his mum’s pregnancy. Freddie and his family live in Cornwall, but they regularly need to make trips to Bristol for appointments, investigations and surgical procedures.

“We’ve spent so much time in Bristol that it’s become part of our home,” Jon explained. “The staff on those wards and the consultants and specialists – they’ve all become part of our family. Although there’s the stress that comes with Freddie having a procedure, we know that there’s support in the hospital that we can call upon to make it less stressful for him and us.” 

Doing the London to Amsterdam challenge for The Grand Appeal is my way of saying thank you. That’s what’s driving me to do it. I want to succeed and I want to raise as much as I can for the charity.

Jon, London to Amsterdam cyclist

Learning to ride a bike

Cycling through the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands is a towering challenge for any cyclist, but especially for Jon, who has been learning to ride a road bike for the first time. 

Jon said: “I think I was probably the first person to sign up for London to Amsterdam. My family thought I was mad. Having a midlife crisis. But I wanted to challenge myself and I liked the idea of cycling. Yes, there’s a lot of cycling challenges around, but not everyone chooses to do them for charity.” 

Cyclist dad out on a scenic bike ride wearing his Grand Appeal t-shirt

“It was a bit nerve-wracking to start learning to ride. You have to conquer fears of falling and making a fool of yourself. I forgot to unclip my bike one day, which every cyclist normally does, and I fell flat on my face in front of a load of people!” 

“But the sense of accomplishment is already amazing. I’ve found going out on my bike is a good relief of stress and burden. I just feel free when I’m on my bike.” 

Emotionally preparing

There’s not only a huge physical challenge ahead of Jon, the London to Amsterdam cycle has also placed a weighty emotional challenge in front of him. He’s spoken to us before about the emotional highs and lows that come with Freddie’s condition, but travelling to Amsterdam poses a new kind of struggle for Jon. 

“The hardest part of the challenge will be being away from Freddie,” he said. “I’ve only ever been away from him for about five days maximum. It’s probably going to be seven days that I’ll be away from him, so that’s going to be tough. The last time I was away, he was ill and ended up with an admission to hospital.” 

“I’ve told Freddie about the bike ride now. Obviously, I go out on my bike with The Grand Appeal jersey on. When we came to Bristol Children’s Hospital for some procedures late last year, there were Grand Appeal posters all over the hospital and, this time, it was a person on a bike. Every time Freddie saw the posters, he said: ‘That’s Daddy!’” 

“And then, more recently, I’ve told him where I’m going. I’ve started to show him on a map. Now that the hotels have been announced, I’ve shown him pictures. He’s looking forward to me doing it, but I don’t think he understands what is going to happen. That I’m not going to be home.” 

I reckon it’s going to be an emotional time. The emotional side of it is going to be that I’m doing it for him, the achievement being for Freddie.

Jon, London to Amsterdam cyclist

Joining Team Grand Appeal

Fortunately, Jon will be surrounded by dozens of other parents who are eager to give something back to the staff and services that have had such a profound impact on their children’s lives. 

To take on the vast challenge of London to Amsterdam, we have teamed up with five other children’s hospital charities from across the UK. The scale of the team is a major source of comfort and pride for Jon, who is looking forward to cycling alongside so many people, all of whom are fundraising with the same goal in mind. 

“I think having people on the ride that have been through similar experiences will help,” he said. “I’ve had the benefit of meeting up with a couple of them already and going out on a few practice rides. We all chat with each other and are communicating, sharing tips and stories.” 

The Grand Appeal and Cots for Tots cyclists cheering with a banner reading 'Go team!' before they set off to start the London to Amsterdam bike ride

With the London to Amsterdam challenge so close, Jon is both feeling the pressure and looking forward to the journey. 

“I’m feeling mixed emotions at the moment. I’m nervous, excited, petrified, raring to go. When I get to the starting line, the nerves will definitely kick in. But a couple of miles down the road, the fear will finally be gone, and I’ll have friends around me. I think we’ll be one big family for the days that we’re doing the bike ride.” 

London to Amsterdam is one of the biggest fundraising challenges that supporters of The Grand Appeal and Cots for Tots take on as a team. Keep an eye on our social media channels to see how the bike ride went over the four days! 

Want to support Jon?

Please donate to Jon’s JustGiving page if you can.