38 cyclists: 1850 km in 10 days from Budapest to Athens
On the 28th August, the Life Cycle Team left Malta, with some trepidation, for their 2005 Challenge mainly because the route was taking them across countries alien to them and surrounded by a certain aura of mystery. Not speaking the language made it seem more formidable. However, Lifecycle had made contact with Julie Zammit, Danica Kokic and Tim Peco who would join the team and would prove invaluable in communicating with the locals in Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro and Albania respectively. Julie, Danica and Tim were therefore most needed by the advance vehicles, helping the support members with the sleeping and eating arrangements. The cyclists’ main concern was whether they would succeed in making the 1800 km ride across rough terrain through the mountainous region from Hungary to Greece.
On the other hand, the support team’s main concern was primarily the safety of the whole group and the hitches they might encounter at the borders. To add to their concern, they had been given quite a pessimistic picture about the lack of medical care, the lack of sanitation and safe drinking water and the lack of hospitality in these countries. Contrary to these forebodings, the team was pleasantly surprised at the hospitality they received in each country where they felt treated as special guests. In Belgrade (Serbia), they were offered a free meal at their accommodation at Partizan stadium while the manager’s son even offered a guided tour of the city to the PR team. In Cacak (Serbia) and in Bijele Polje (Montenegro), they even had journalists coming to report besides having watchmen staying with them the whole night through just in case they needed anything. Most places even offered them free use of their washing machines and driers. The crossing at the borders were also hassle-free, thanks to Julie and Danica, and especially to Tim Peco who accompanied them at the most feared crossings in and out of Albania. Regarding medical problems, the team had come well-prepared, taking the necessary vaccines, and precautions regarding water safety. What they certainly did not expect was the injury of David Serge on the very first day, just 40 km after starting off. David had a bad fall, dislocating his shoulder and needing facial stitches. He was taken to hospital by ambulance, accompanied by one of the support vehicles. The treatment received was excellent and most efficient, and soon David was safely back with the team in spite of being most disappointed that he could not continue the Challenge he had so vigorously trained for. One other cyclist also had this dream shattered when, after 2 days, he had to pull out because of bilateral achilles tendonitis although his enthusiasm still persisted and, after a couple of days, he again joined the group accompanying them all the way up to the Acropolis. Several other cyclists suffered injuries and strains and were most efficiently attended to by the medical team consisting of a sports doctor, a nurse and 2 physiotherapists. In spite of these injuries, the cyclists were very determined to continue the challenge even though some had to move at a much slower pace, sometimes clocking in at 10pm or later.
The backup members and vehicles stayed with them all the way while the cyclists’ main concern was not their injuries but whether they would still remain within the time frame of the challenge. Several cyclists needed more than physical support and this was most aptly given by the support team along the route, and by Fr. Gordon Refalo at the camp who always managed to lift their spirits at the end of the day and before leaving for the new day’s challenge. Other duries of the support team included ensuring the smooth running of the event, including logistics, route arrangements, etc., bike maintenance and attendance to bike breakdown, etc. In the meantime, other members of the support team were managing luggage, sleeping and eating arrangements, cooking, etc., while others were actively performing public relations keeping anxious relatives and the Maltese public informed. The weather was mostly fine and warm although there were 2 hot stifling days in Albania and a downpour of rain in one of the hardest part of the challenge just when the cyclists were riding through the 40km offroad just before reaching Bijele Polje in Montenegro. On the other hand, the scenery was truly amazing with unforgettable sights such as the Moraca Canyon, the Qafe Krrabe Mountains, the Meteora Mountains and Monasteries, Delphi and. last but not least, the Acropolis. Indeed, the final part of the challenge would be indelible for the whole team. About 20km from Athens, the team was met by Mr. Kostas Kalegorpolous – the Greek Consul to Malta. From then on, the whole team was escorted by 2 police cars and a police motor cyclist. The main street of Athens was closed to traffic while the team triumphantly made their way up to the Acropolis.
No words can describe the feeling of joy felt by both cyclists and support members as they were greeted and cheered by bystanders. As they reached the Acropolis, these Maltese representatives were in turn greeted by Mr. Saviour Balzan, the Maltese Ambassador to Greece, marking the day not only as a memorable one for Life Cycle but also for all Malta. However, the Life Cycle Challenge would not have been so successful had it not been for the support of the sponsors, the media and all the public. The media was truly incredible and daily live contacts with radio and tv stations, and with the press, made it possible to keep in contact with the anxious relatives and with the considerate public. Besides offering moral support through their interest, the Maltese and Gozitans were most generous by donating towards Life Cycle’s purpose, i.e., of collecting funds for the Renal Unit at St. Luke’s Hospital. Indeed, donations kept rolling in even after the team arrived safely back and received a most fervent welcome. During the press conference held on the 3rd November Life Cycle announced the amount of money collected, which was of over Lm43,000. The sponsors and benefactors were honoured for their zeal and hard work by Mr. Kenneth Grech, the Hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, who presented each participant with a token and a certificate as an appreciation. Furthermore, Mr. George Elmer presented a cheque of no less than Lm2800, a sum that he has incredibly collected on his own. Deservedly, Mr. Elmer wasl also presented with a certificate and token for his most altruistic participation in this year’s Life Cycle’s Challenge. The Press Conference served another purpose as Life Cycle Organisation donated the portable Site Rite Ultrasound Machine. This machine will prove invaluable in the Renal Unit and in the Operating Theatre in facilitating vascular access for haemodialysis.