Life is about experiences and good or bad they change us and develop who we are. More often than not they also change others and, as a consequence, how we define ourselves and what we consider possible!

Sometimes we get involved in a project that we experience as positive but rare are the opportunities to experience a project as not only positive but also fun and meaningful. Over the past year, I have been fortunate enough to experience all this and more on my journey to Paris with Team Rynkeby Helsingborg 2019!

What appealed to me and made me want to apply was hearing the experience of one of my son’s friends who had been part of the Helsingborg team in 2018. He described the training, the actual cycling to Paris and the feeling of team spirit with such enthusiasm and summarised his experience by saying, ‘it was the best thing I have ever done’.

Team Rynkeby is a well-established and organised project, started in Denmark in 2002 and now with 54 teams this year from across Scandinavia and beyond who have as a common goal to cycle to Paris to raise money for children with cancer and their families.

Our Helsingborg team consists of 40 cyclists and 12 in the service team and many of the cyclists had never sat on a road bike before our first outdoor training at the end of March. Everybody in the team came together with a sense of how they could contribute to the project and with a willingness to make a difference. Each team member contributes to smaller teams with a specific focus on, for example: sponsorship; media/PR; events; finance; service and admin.

The physical and mental challenge

Our adventure together started at the end of September with the first gathering of the team and the start of regular training which consisted of two 1 to 2 hour sessions per week; spinning plus a varied combination of workouts with a principle focus on core strength. We were soon being challenged and challenging ourselves to develop physically and get in shape for cycling 1200 km from Helsingborg to Paris in 8 days.

As the sweat poured off me and our spinning instructors encouraged us to increase the resistance again and again, ‘one more time’, ‘one more time’, my leg muscles screamed at me to stop! In those moments I faced that inner voice questioning whether I was going to be ‘strong enough’. On some level I knew that I wasn’t alone in this mental struggle but it was nonetheless a struggle many of us had to face at some point along the journey, whether it was in the spinning studio, cycling in cross winds across Skåne’s open agricultural landscape, on the bike in the middle of a climb or questioning whether our contribution to the project was enough.

Challenges are part of life and what happens when we step outside our comfort zone and it is in dealing with them that we experience growth.

Responsibility and team spirit

What made our team feel different and special was both the lack of judgement and the level of support and encouragement everyone has for one another. This and the conviction that we are doing this as a team and nobody gets left behind saw us through those wavering moments of self-doubt. It’s hard to define the successful formula that created this. A lot of credit goes to our captains for selecting a team of such positive individuals and for emphasising the importance of the team spirit from the outset. Credit also goes to all those ‘Gamla Rynkor’ who have gone before and created the DNA of the Helsingborg team which has proven so successful year after year. Each and every team member deserves credit for taking their personal responsibility to embrace this team spirit and for living it! Yes, that could be it! The captains succeeded in pulling together a team where each member took responsibility for their own journey and fully honoured the commitment he or she had made to the team!

Making a difference

The final figure for money raised won’t be known for some weeks yet but what we do know is that the 2019 Helsingborg team has raised more corporate sponsorship than any other team in the history of the project. A fantastic result for those children and their families and future children with cancer who will benefit from the research and care these funds make possible through Barncancerfonden.

A luxury and a privilege

The project appealed to my sense of adventure, my fascination for cycling and my love of nature and spending time outdoors. For me though, on top of all this, the fun, the new circle of friends and doing something meaningful for others, it was an opportunity for personal development. Having changed my lifestyle from that of a constantly travelling business owner and now finding myself settled in the one place, it was easier to prioritise my health and fitness.

The goal of being ready physically and mentally to cycle those 1200 km to Paris felt like a godsend. To have all the team training times in my calendar and just turning up to training through the darkest winter evenings was easy because that’s what was expected and that’s what my team-mates were doing. What a luxury to just turn up and do it! What a privilege to have such great instructors, all of whom gave their time for free! I know I’m going to miss this! It was the same on our longer cycles and training camps and on the long, hot days on our way to Paris where we were so well looked after by our service team. Such an adventure and achievement would have been impossible without their organisation, encouragement and care.

My personal development

I reflect on my own personal journey within the project and how I have developed as a result of this experience. Through the months of indoor training I became fitter and stronger and I lost weight. When we finally got out onto the road in April I quickly realised that the change in my body composition and strength weight ratio meant that I had transformed from a cyclist that dreaded hills to one that relished them! Because of the body mind connection I know that I had also re-discovered a different mental strength when it comes to physical achievement that I last experienced in my twenties. This is a development I am keen to build on leading up to next spring but my challenge is to do this outside the positive and encouraging environment of the team.

Apart from the physical and mental challenges, it wasn’t always easy balancing the time and focus the project required with other commitments and with family time. For an introvert like me who is used to plenty of reflective time alone, it was, at times, challenging to operate in an intensive group environment, especially on the way to Paris, albeit with an amazing group of positive team-mates.

So many memories

Talking of the cycle to Paris, what a blast! The journeying together, the supportive feeling within the team, the first beer of the evening after so many hours in the heat, finding our own routines to ensure we could function as individuals and therefore deliver for the team and then there was the cycling, of course! Some challenging days in over 40°C heat when my head felt it was going to explode; the feeling of sweeping through small villages as a coordinated, symmetric peloton; long, steady climbs in the forests of the Ardennes; conversation, connection and sharing with my wing-mates; the frenetic, ‘survival of the bravest’ dash across Paris to the Eiffel Tower. So many memories!

Full of appreciation

I feel grateful for this experience and being able to play my part. The special feeling of belonging to something bigger with everyone pulling in the same direction. I am also full of appreciation for all those who facilitated and enhanced the journey and not least, Petra, for affording me the time and space. I have been spurred on and supported by team-mates and there are those who have inspired me with their own determination. To all, you know who you are, I say a heartfelt thank you!

It’s my hope that more and more have the opportunity, in this project or others, to experience the same kind of collaborative and positive team spirit that sets it apart from the tired programmes of competition and polarisation we are used to and that this kind of collaboration becomes the new norm.

Mark Henderson