James Kenealey ex-forces
“I don’t feel too bad, I’ve had a little bit of time to rest now. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet that it’s all done and dusted.”
Morson’s Matt Sellick, former Royal Navy sailor and ex-forces recruiter based out of Yeovilton, was taking part in a routine health MOT in late 2019 courtesy of Morson’s health & wellbeing programme when he found himself concerned by the results.
“I found out that I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and after blood tests found that my kidneys and liver were in bad shape. At 38 this put me at a high risk of a stroke or a heart attack, so I realised I had to change my diet and start some form of physical exercise.”
It was then that Matt joked with his colleagues about riding his bike from RNAS Yeovilton to RNAS Culdrose, a distance of 360 miles across demanding terrain. Pretty soon the joke turned into a serious idea and allied with Morson’s Tony Beaumont and representatives from Leonardo Helicopters and the Royal Navy, the plan was set in place to embark on the ride in September.
The ride was to raise money for the White Ensign Association, a registered charity founded in 1958. It was set up to provide a financial advisory service of the highest calibre for all serving and retired personnel of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and more. Over the years, the role has developed and expanded to include the provision of assistance in resettlement and employment in civilian life.
We caught up with Matt to talk us over the experience:
“I was training for months and slowly improving. Then the last 8-10 weeks before the ride itself ramped up massively in terms of the training and planning, as well as the push for the fundraising. It was quite nonstop. All my training had been on my own pretty much because of the lockdown, we only went out a few times as a team. I was kind of winging most of the training to be honest!”
Pretty soon the day arrived and the riders left RNAS Yeovilton accompanied by an escort of vehicles playing music.
“I was a little bit nervous the week before the ride and as we were leaving Yeovilton. But then you get your head down and concentrate on the ride itself and it went quite quickly to be honest. You didn’t really have a lot of time to think and that was the case throughout. It was early starts every day and then by the time we were getting into the hotels it was late and we had maybe half an hour turnaround times before we had to eat dinner. Then it was back to the hotel at 10am and up again at 6:30. For those four days we didn’t have the time that you normally might after a long ride to have a long bath or a rest! It was full on."
The first day of the ride was around 100 miles long, with the team getting to know each other. It wasn’t until getting up on the second day that it occurred to Matt that it wasn’t just a one day ride and that the toughest part was still yet to come.
“Then halfway through day two I blew my knee out. I’d had my cleats replaced on my shoes and I didn’t get them fitted properly and it wasn’t aligned properly. I hadn’t had injury throughout training at all but then halfway through the second day with this every pedal stroke with my right leg was agony really. But I got through it with paracetamol and determination.”
With a couple of stops a day for refreshments and lunch, the team powered through long days. In the evenings after every ride the team enjoyed a meal out and drinks.
“On day two there were a lot of bottles of wine and prosecco, everyone was on the gin and I was thinking, wow, we’ve got to do another 88 miles tomorrow and it’s not even the last day! I guess because you top yourself up so much with your multivitamins and hydration tablets and gels to keep your levels topped up you’re not really that dehydrated anyway.”
“Day three was horrible, I think it might have been the worst day of my life! Not just because of the injury but because of the amount of climbing that we were doing in one day. That third day on its own you wouldn’t want to put with any other day in a row at all but the fact that it was after 100 miles on day one then 80 miles on day two. THEN we were climbing up across Bodmin Moor. It was the worst day and the team had to drag me through that a bit. Some of the other riders who were a lot more experienced than me were finding it tough. That sort of made be believe that I could do it, because if these experienced riders were struggling then I wasn’t alone.”
Day four provided some relief for the riders with a final stretch that was consistently downhill towards the finish line back at RNAS Yeovilton.
“Me and Tony Beaumont at the front setting the pace for the last 30 miles. The adrenaline was there, and we knew there were no hills left. I thought I’d be a bit more emotional at the end. But I think I was just too tired and emotional. We went for a couple of drinks at the local pub afterwards and the CEO of White Ensign Association was there and the second in command of Yeovilton met us. I was just too tired to let it sink in. I had a busy few days after the ride which didn’t really help because I didn’t rest the knee enough!”
Despite the strain of completing the ride, it’s not put Matt off further challenges in the future.
“I was really surprised by the level of support actually. I was putting it out on social media a lot to try and fundraise and keep people engaged in my training. Some of the people who had followed the stories and then donated were some people I’d not seen since school. They were on my Facebook but I’d never met them. Seeing the gratitude of the charity at the end really meant a lot too. I had a handwritten letter from Lord Carlile. He was going to come to the finish line, but he was busy in the House of Lords that day!
“If we can raise £7,500 by me joking in the office that I’m going to cycle from Yeovilton to Culdrose and back during a pandemic, then the next challenge I could maybe be a bit more adventurous on.”