Each section a different physical and psychological challenge
One overall winner but within each day, different winners,
King of the mountain
and Sprint rider.
Each one awarded different points which plays a part in the overall riders race position.
Most riders race as part of a team with usually one stand out rider per stage (depending on their particular strength) who is supported by their team mates through chain gang riding (aerodynamics), blocking break-off riders from other teams and sometimes simply acting as a ‘body guard’.
For a non-contact sport it’s brutal.
Elbows, shoulders and tyres clipping each other, all end in some pretty spectacular wipeouts!
Yes this is the Tour De France or Le Tour.
Probably the greatest annual road cycling event in the world.
But what the heck does this have to do with India or even my recent trip to the UK?
Whilst I might not have completed it on a bike, the distance, terrain and experience has certainly been comparable.
In 24 hours I went from;
Rural Tamil Nadu to central London
It couldn’t have been a bigger contrast.
Happily bumbling off the plane at Heathrow and straight on to the tube.
Hold on…………. men and women who don’t know each other are sat next to each other!!!!
And there aren’t just Indians on here but people from every corner of the world, all with regional british accents in western clothing!
A little bemused by my own shock and realisation that perhaps I’d got too used to rural India I was happy to arrive an hour or so later at my sisters house, home for the next 2 weeks.
There was no time to rest and it was literally like heading onto the cobble paved sections of the Tour de France.
Bumping along (literally) next to hundreds of other people at great speed, when at any given moment you could be nudged or hit a wonky cobble and fall off.
The more commonly used description “reverse culture shock”.
Suddenly I had every freedom and choice in the world,
to do what I wanted,
go where I wanted,
total choice in food
and alongside one of the most diverse populations in the world.
It was surreal to say the least!
Outside of this, at the forefront of my mind was the major (work-related) reason I was back in the UK.
To secure investment for the India project.
And so started the arduous process of identifying, contacting, meeting, schmoozing, hassling and finding investors.
I’m still not sure whether it was an overall expectation but the expectation I placed on myself, but I rapidly became frustrated at an inability to move at any great pace.
It was like riding over cobbles, wanting to move fast but the cobbles slowing things down and creating an incredibly unpredictable terrain.
May in the UK was hectic,
Spain (yes a holiday!)
and then Cardiff.
But as I settled into this crazy routine, I settled into UK life and started to appreciate some of the things that I had sorely missed – Family, friends, the countryside, hectic city life and holidays.
Spending time with family and friends has definitely been the highlight, not least of all my nephew who at 3 is now incredibly chatty.
The morning walks to nursery have definitely become the highlight of the day!
There would always be a discussion about the weather!!! But what has become more challenging is the constant questions of ‘why?’.
Why don’t cats like getting wet?
Why is that snail still in its house (shell)?
Why don’t all cars live in houses?
Simple? Maybe! But try explaining it to a 3 year old! Who then follows up with a lot of ‘whys’
All ok until you walk past a couple of teenagers who are already embarrassed to be seen together without this inquisitive one piping up,
“What are those two doing?”
“They’re just talking?”
“Because they’re just catching up with each other before they go home?”
“Why are they standing there?”
“Because they haven’t gone home yet?”
“Because they’re talking?”
How do explain to a 3 year old about teenage romance?
Needless to say I was the most embarrassed and ended up apologising whilst trying to divert the conversation to my favourite wind-up conversation of telling William that
“He IS a sausage”
“NO!!! I AM NOT A SAUSAGE” (see card above)
THE MOUNTAIN CLIMBS
Perhaps the toughest but most rewarding part of being back.
Anyone who cycles a bit will know that whilst the up hill climbs are hard work, muscles burning, wondering when they are going to end, they are ultimately the best part of a ride!
It’s totally a mind game and nothing else.
Every part of this has been a steep learning curve. Yes bad pun! But its true.
Suddenly having to prepare corporate pitches,
Have I done one before? N0! Did we have any examples of any? No!
Promote the volunteer opportunity to paying customers,
Ok, How much for?
How many do we need?
How do we market?
How do we get noticed?
Secure Government support and potential investment,
Ministers? Civil servants?
Tell them what?
What the heck has India got to do with Wales?
Get all this done then secure the meetings, London, Cardiff, North Wales, Cardiff, North Wales, London, Cardiff, London and finally North Wales.
At the time its difficult to see the progress you’re making but we’ve had some big wins:
1. Now a preferred supplier to the British Council (the UK’s largest charity),
2. Firm partnerships with University of South Wales, Trinity St Davids University and Glyndwr University
3. Exciting project with Wrexham warehouse which will see disadvantaged young people from North Wales travelling to India for a community building project
4. Growing partnership with Airbus
5. Significant Welsh Government ministerial support
6. Continued support from Welsh Government in UK and India
7. Listed on Young Ambassadors Cymru website as a ‘recommended international volunteer opportunity’
8. Unique project with Youth Sport Trust directly linking our UK work with international placements
9. A new promotional video – thank you Helen (We Break Chains) which will be launched soon
10. And an unexpected award from WCVA ‘see international volunteer of the year‘
The short sharp intense bursts of energy where its head down and focus!
There haven’t been too many of these, thankfully.
But where an opportunity suddenly appears, not just for the India project but for Vi-Ability, its all hands on deck to get it done.
Its been a transition switching back to UK/western way of working. Expectations of instant responses to emails, phone calls and messages. Expectations of turning pieces of work around in 24 hours.
Its been no bad thing being immersed back into this environment and its been great to really understand how Vi-Ability works but its also been a challenge to be more disciplined about when I have time out of work and switch off.
Ultimately in India I never do, particularly when there are volunteers with us but the pace is different (which is both good and bad). Back here I’ve had to be much more disciplined about keeping weekends for myself or for spending time with family and friends. You can’t keep up a sprint pace for long and I’m learning that the rest periods (evenings/weekends) are essential.
WINNING THE STAGES?
Its been a hard slog being back, constant travelling, living out of a bag, building connections and having to explore every opportunity. All on a tight timescale with a constant deadline of September looming!
At the moment no money has been secured but a lot of positive partnerships and links have been established which I’m sure will lead to investment.
I have at times been really critical of myself for what hasn’t been done but as people rightly remind me, it takes months to establish a solid working relationship with people before they invest, the UK has a new government that is talking about significant cuts which is likely to mean less money everywhere for everyone over the coming years and, of course, I can only be in so many places at once!
I’ve also had helpful reminders such as this article:
“All womens initiatives lack corporate sponsorship”
It’s not just been about the India project but an opportunity to get involved in other areas of Vi-Ability work and perhaps establish myself more firmly in the company. Without sounding arrogant but being in the UK for this amount of time has enabled me to show that I have a lot more to offer than simply managing the India project. Which is ironic as there has been little that has been simple or straight forward about the India project but hopefully you get my point.
Yes its been good being back, spending proper quality time with family and friends has been the highlight and definitely important to do. I think even I had forgotten how little time I have spent in the UK over the last 2 years!
I’m excited and looking forward to returning to India. Its been great for perspective being here but its not where my passion or interest lies right now.
Can’t say I will go back better rested at all but I’ll go back with a renewed energy for what we are doing there and real belief about why I’m doing this.
Few people truly ‘get it‘ and I don’t expect them to but as always I am massively appreciative of the support I get. More so on a personal level than anything and have been a little stunned by the positive and complimentary feedback from people I knew through my previous work life!
As my sister rightly said, “if 2 years ago when you started this and you would have known that this is where you would be, would you have believed it?” No I wouldn’t.
Almost 2 years ago I walked out of the Sport Wales office nervous, apprehensive, terrified but excited about taking a year out. 2 years on having quit that job, taken a risk and still not sure where all this going.
It hasn’t quite been 21 gruelling stages on a bike but every stage has been a different experience. No bad thing at all!
So 11th August and its back to India.
First stop Trivandrum for 5 days holiday, yes holiday!
Then back to Manur, my house and my local village.
Really looking forward to being back working day to day with Swathi and Raisa, Skype and whatsapp are just not the same!
And then begins Tour de India with first stop Chennai to meet Government reps and British Council.
Watch this space!