Simon is in the hot seat for Brain Tumour Research charity cycle

The cyclists in the hills
The cyclists in the hills
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Simon Tier was inspired to start fundraising for Brain Tumour Research after the death of his best friend Alan Neilson – and then other sad losses of friends and colleagues. He has just returned from a cycle in India alongside several celebrities – and here, ahead of the charity’s major Wear a Hat fundraising day, is Simon’s diary from the trip

Simon was one of two lucky winners of a competition in The Sun who took part in the Nicki Waterman Kerala Challenge (#NWKC2017) in memory of Nicki, one of the UK’s foremost fitness experts and celebrity trainers, who died last year just 15 months after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

From left, Emma Barclay, Denise Van Outen, Simon Tier, Kate Thornton, Jane Witherspoon and Jemma Pike

From left, Emma Barclay, Denise Van Outen, Simon Tier, Kate Thornton, Jane Witherspoon and Jemma Pike

Also taking part in the challenge were Nicki’s daughter Alex Thrussell, TV presenters Kate Thornton and Denise van Outen, singer and actress Michelle Heaton and The X Factor’s Kye Sones.

Denise said: ‘Simon’s stories are heart-breaking and he is such an inspirational person.

‘I commend him on his dedication to the charity Brain Tumour Research, he is so determined to make a difference.

‘Of course, Simon’s done several cycle challenges already so he could race ahead of all of us!

Simon during Holi, the Festival of Colours

Simon during Holi, the Festival of Colours

‘We planned our music playlists to cycle along to, before we went to India, and he and I are a decade ahead of most of the team, luckily we have similar tastes in music!’

SIMON’S DIARY

Friday, March 10 (day before departure)

Tomorrow I will be in the air, en route to India. Another chapter in my journey with people connected to, and passionate about, change for those affected by brain tumours. I’m actually quite nervous about how I’m going to cope with riding in extreme heat, in a country completely unknown to me.

Simon and Denise Van Outen

Simon and Denise Van Outen

I’ve lost not only my best friend, but three other friends and colleagues to brain tumours, which kill more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer.

It’s been quite a journey, even before the trip has started! I’ve been a supporter of the national charity Brain Tumour Research for over six years. In that time, I’ve completed to numerous cycling challenges, but I’m still kind of pinching myself about being chosen for this particularly high-profile ride. If any challenge was tailor-made for someone who is indefatigably passionate about fundraising for Brain Tumour Research and normally does so on two wheels, then this is it!

Just some last-minute packing left to do…

Saturday , March 11 (Day 1 of the Nicki Waterman Kerala Challenge 2017)

Alan Nielson, left, and Simon Tier

Alan Nielson, left, and Simon Tier

Leave my home in Fareham for an overnight flight from London Heathrow to Kochi, Kerala. Meet up with the rest of the team, some of whom I haven’t seen since our last training spin session, some of whom I have never met before.

It’s a long flight and I end up with teammates asleep on my shoulder for a lot of the time!

Sunday, March 12

We arrive in Koichi, in the state of Kerala on India’s south-west coast. Still tired from the long journey, but after checking in to the hotel, I spend a bit of time enjoying a local festival and exploring Koichi, a fascinating and beautiful city founded by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Teammates and I make sure to go to bed nice and early as we have 30 miles of uphill cycling tomorrow!

Monday, March 13

Saddling up for the first day! Before we set off I was humbled to receive a blessing from a Hindu pujari (priest). The team leaves Koichi to begin a picturesque day’s riding, which sees us head towards Thattekad Bird Sanctuary and then Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary. Both the scenery and wildlife are spectacular, but I don’t get a much time to appreciate them as I’d like – cycling in over 30C and 60 per cent humidity, uphill most of the way really does take it out of you!

Debbie McGee is supporting Wear a Hat Day for the Brain Tumour Research charity 

Picture: Brain Tumour Research

Debbie McGee is supporting Wear a Hat Day for the Brain Tumour Research charity Picture: Brain Tumour Research

Tuesday, March 14

A tough, tough day 1,000m climbing in punishing heat. A lot of people were hurting and emotions were running high. But then, after that, there came a new togetherness – we all knew that whatever pain we would go through, no matter what, is temporary compared to those living with a brain tumour. From this point on, Team Nicki Waterman Challenge became one!

We were cycling the Western Ghats, which the locals call the Sahyadri Hills, finishing in the town of Munmar. To our horror, the team are beginning to realise that what the Indians refer to as ‘hills’ everybody else would call a mountain! Masses of aching bodies at the end of the day, but we all know that this pain is temporary and we put ourselves through this to help raise awareness and funds for this indiscriminate disease.

Wednesday, March 15

The third day sees us pedalling through Idukki district. The peaks are getting really steep now, we’re in tea-plantation country! We get to some time to meet local Keralans today, the local children all enjoy playing with the team and posing for photos!

Thursday 16th March

Over six hours in the saddle today, 51 miles from Idukki to Periyar Wildlife Park. The team are now relying on mutual support to keep us going on this penultimate day of the challenge. I’ve been getting great encouragement from everybody, especially my fellow Brain Tumour Research activist Emma Barclay and TV presenter Jane Witherspoon.

Friday, March 17

Final day of riding today, from Periyar, passing through Alappuhza and finishing back on the Keralan coast. Fortunately, it’s one of the most scenic days – passing by unspoilt beaches, lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals really inspires me to keep the pedals spinning. We finally finish, having ridden over 200 miles and climbed over 5,000m – the equivalent of cycling up Mount Snowdon every day of the ride!

My teammates have been fantastic. I don’t think I have ever bonded with such a large group of people in such a short time. Most of us are of course united with the common goal of fighting brain tumours but, even so, for nearly 30 people to share the same space on a gruelling ride in tough conditions and still come out smiling is something else.

I wanted to do this ride as it is a huge opportunity to really bring brain tumours right up in the public eye.

So far, the Nicki Waterman Kerala Challenge 2017 has raised £46,000 for Brain Tumour Research and the Nicki Waterman Foundation, but there’s still time to donate to if you want to help find a cure for brain tumours, including supporting the vital research taking place at the University of Portsmouth.

n To donate – go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/NickiWatermanKeralaChallenge

WEAR A HAT DAY

It’s not too late to take part in Wear A Hat Day, which takes place tomorrow.

Now in its eighth year – and bigger, bolder and HATTIER than ever before – celebrity ambassadors include Debbie McGee, who lost husband Paul Daniels to a brain tumour a year ago.

Wear A Hat Day was launched by Brain Tumour Research and is the culmination of Brain Tumour Awareness Month. The big day will see schools, workplaces, families and individuals across the area fundraising and taking part in fun events to raise awareness of brain tumours and help fund life-saving research such as that taking place in Portsmouth.

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet just one per cent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.

Funds raised through Wear A Hat Day 2017 will develop the charity’s network of world-class brain tumour research centres in the UK.

To find out more or donate visit www.wearahatday.org

Or text HAT to 70660 to donate £5.

Look out for the hashtag #HATTASTIC tomorrow

PORTSMOUTH RESEARCH LAB

The Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at the University of Portsmouth was the first to be launched by the charity.

Led by Professor Geoff Pilkington, the key focus of research is to identify how we could modify drugs so that they can cross into the brain.

The blood vessels within the brain are configured in a structure – termed the blood-brain tarrier – which prevents anti-cancer drugs from entering.

The team has developed a novel model of the blood-brain barrier in a dish, allowing them to screen for drugs that may enter into the brain.

They are also working with chemists to modify the structure of some existing drugs or develop tools which will allow them to enter the brain and kill cancerous cells.