Ride4Sight 2018 Supporting The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust

In 2014, a charity initiative to mark 25 years of trading called Ride4Sight brought together volunteer cycling enthusiasts from across the Vision Express family. Last week CEO Jonathan Lawson was back in the saddle – this time as part of a 30-strong team of riders committed to raising £30k for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust to celebrate the optician’s 30 year milestone.  It represents the final charity challenge he’ll undertake before leaving the company at the end of 2018. Here, he reflects on what the Ride4Sight means.

When the Ride4Sight was conceived five years ago, I was a complete stranger to cycling. I bought a road bike and on my first training ride I was ‘clipped in’ and fell off, and I honestly thought I was going to do myself serious damage. It’s definitely a learning curve. The positive side is that having the Ride4Sight on the horizon forced me to exercise. This year I clocked up around 1,600km in advance, which I knew was probably not enough because it’s just so tough. The second day of this last ride was the most punishing we’ve experienced. But now it’s become a bit of an obsession, and we’ve taken on the hobby as a family. My son, Alec, rode the first two Ride4Sight events and was on the support team for 2018.

What makes Ride4Sight special

For me, there are three things that make the Ride4Sight so special. Firstly, the camaraderie is fantastic, and I get to spend two days with a team from across Vision Express and our partners, making connections with people I might not otherwise get to know day to day and visiting stores. Every year there’s been a mix of returners and new volunteers who are taking up cycling for the first time. The bravery of those guys is incredible. It’s no mean feat. And the way we approach this is as a team. Nobody gets left behind, and that’s so important. We finish as we start – in a group – and we support each other along the way.

Secondly, we’ve always had ambassadors from the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) join us, and meeting them brings home exactly why we’re doing this. Over the years I’ve been honoured to meet some truly inspirational individuals, and that spurs you on. You realise that it’s far more than good fun – we’re raised £500,000 in total for CHECT during our partnership – so what we’ve done will make a real impact on eye cancer survivors and their families.

Finally, there’s something about the physical challenge that appeals to me. And that has meant hours on the bike on the weekend to make sure I’m in good enough shape to make it to the finish line.

Vision Express charity cycle challenge ‘Ride4Sight’ at the Potteries shopping centre store in Hanley.
Photographed: Frankie Garbett (CHECT Ambassador), Frankie’s parents Luke Garbett and Gemma Parry, Vision Express CEO Jonathon Lawson, store manager Jon Trumans

‘A bundle of nerves’

We’ve had some memorable moments, which will definitely stay with me. The first event was at Metrocentre in Gateshead because it opened as our very first store in 1988,  but we were a bundle of nerves and getting out of the city negotiating rush hour traffic was horrendous. We always say ‘don’t take risks, stay safe’ yet we had our first casualty within the opening mile.

In 2016 we had a marriage proposal, so that stands out, and we had our fair share of missing the race markers and riding through heavy rain for hour upon hour.

The event has taken individuals on significant personal journeys too – our IT engineer Darren Cole has participated in every ride and attributes the Ride4Sight with rediscovering his passion for cycling, helping him lose eight stone and transforming his health and lifestyle.

We’ve always planned a route to visit different parts of the UK, and it’s great this year that, with ‘Vision Express at Tesco’ stores, we can reach even more local communities.

This cycle was emotional because it was my last, but my hope is that the Ride4Sight will continue. It’s got a fantastic team behind it, and it’s developed a momentum of its very own. Crucially, by getting on a bike for 300km, although it might hurt like billy-o, we make a fundamental difference to CHECT, who can offer a lifeline to families affected by retinoblastoma.

For more information on CHECT visit: www.chect.org.uk

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