Kent cyclist goes the extra mile
Kent cyclist goes the extra mile

One Kent cyclist, Steve Craddock, is closing in on raising £500,000 for Help for Heroes having completed his latest epic ride.

Since he started supporting Help for Heroes 12 years ago, Steve from St Mary’s Island near Chatham has covered around 11,000 miles during this time, becoming their biggest ever individual fundraiser in the process over 28 events.

Veteran Steve Craddock, 62, has just completed an epic fundraising cycle ride which took him from Chaves in the North of Portugal, 490 miles down to Faro in the Algarve, battling torrential rain and averaging almost 80 miles a day in the process.

The Portuguese ride is the latest in a 12- year list of events to raise funds for Armed Forces charity, Help for Heroes, comprising many challenging cycle rides along with quiz nights, black tie dinners and concerts. These have brought Steve’s fundraising total to a staggering £486,000, making him the biggest individual fundraiser in Help for Heroes’ history.

The six-day cycle route followed the fabled N2 Highway, Portugal’s answer to Route 66, taking Steve through a changing vista of extra-ordinary scenery – but also having to endure some of the worst cycling conditions he’s ever had to contend with.

A former Royal Engineer, Steve is no stranger to pushing himself, even when life gets tough. He undertook 6 tours of Northern Ireland and subsequently struggled both mentally and physically after leaving the Armed Forces before being diagnosed with PTSD.

Getting on a bike to do a 350 mile sponsored ride from Normandy to Paris for Help for Heroes was the first step on his own recovery – the training gave him a reason to get out of bed and leave the house, while also lifting his mood and his feelings of isolation by being able to bike with other people. Fundraising through cycling has been a driver for him ever since, helping him mentally and giving him a real purpose in life.

His Portuguese fundraiser began in the country’s northern industrial zones and terraced vineyards, which are amongst the oldest in the world, continuing through fields of olive and cork trees, along riverbanks and over the winding mountains of the Duro region with glorious sweeping views of the valleys below.

Once out of the mountains, Steve headed through the rolling countryside of the less-explored Alentejo region, with its traditional white painted houses and wide-open landscapes. Whilst beautiful, this was some of the hardest cycling for Steve from a mental perspective as, with the road ahead constantly in view it could feel rather relentless in the rain. In an area that hadn’t seen rain for six months the lashing rain was very unseasonal.

The final phase of the journey was climbing over the rather challenging mountains of the Algarve, giving way to citrus orchards and the welcome sea breezes of the Atlantic Ocean. The last day was a tough one in the saddle but was truly compensated for by the glorious weather, unbelievable views and great high-speed descents as they reached our destination in Faro. 

Steve says, “This was probably the toughest cycle challenge I have ever attempted, made much worse by the rain. However, it was also a glorious, glorious route and, when the sun came out, the views were breath-taking. For anyone looking for a challenge I would thoroughly recommend this ride, especially as I know we were unlucky with the weather.

“And, as it’s helped me get ever-closer to raising my £500,000 target for Help for Heroes it’s been more than worth pushing my physical and mental boundaries.”

Anyone who feels inspired by Steve’s epic journey can help him achieve his £500,000 target before the end of the year by sponsoring him here for his incredible bike challenge. This is to cycle 2,020 miles across Europe in 22 days in 2020. He’ll be cycling alongside another veteran, Lee Patmore, who’ll be using a handbike as he is a wheelchair user following for a back injury sustained during his time in the Royal Navy.

But Steve won’t stop there – as he says, “many veterans continue to need the support that Help for Heroes provides, and as long as one veteran continues to need support, I will be there fundraising for them”. 

Steve is an incredibly healthy 62-year-old who puts many younger people to shame with this fitness regime for his gruelling fundraising schedule. However, this has not always been the case.

At the age of 17, Steve joined the Royal Engineers, doing six tours of Northern Ireland. He saw some terrible things but, like many in the Armed Forces, he bottled things up. Then, 11 years on, a family tragedy acted led to him reliving awful memories. They were so frightening that he tried to stay awake so he wouldn’t get flashbacks in his sleep.

He kept things to himself, although inside he was collapsing, and became, in his words, ‘a nasty, vindictive git’, making the lives of his wife and family hell. He also struggled physically, ballooning to 17st, and this was affecting his mental health.

The changing point was when he was diagnosed with PTSD. He finally understood that he wasn’t going mad – he had a condition – and he made a pledge to himself to get better.

He signed up for the Help for Heroes Big Battlefield Bike Ride and bought a bike. However, at first Steve found the training a real challenge. Cycling the 350 miles from Normandy to Paris when he was almost 18 stone was horrendously difficult, especially up the hills.

But, getting on a bike was the first step on his recovery – it gave him a reason to get out of bed and leave the house; it helped lift his mood and his feelings of isolation by being able to cycle with other people. The weight started to come off, his mental health started to improve and he hasn’t stopped since!

Setting fundraising challenges is what keeps Steve going. This helps him mentally and knowing that he’ll be helping others going through the same kind of difficulties as he has, whether through mental or physical injury, is a massive driver.

Steve’s own recovery journey and his incredible tenacity to keep raising funds for Help for Heroes is a true inspiration. If you would like to help him to achieve his £500,000 goal before the end of the year then you can do one of two things:

If you’re free on Friday 1st November then get your tickets for his ‘Evening with Mark Beaumont’ at the Glassbox Theatre in Gillingham Kent. Mark will be showing videos and talking about his incredible journey cycling around the world in fewer than 80 days. He will also be joined by special guest star, Dame Kelly Holmes. Tickets are only £15 and can be booked here.

Sponsor him here for his next incredible cycling challenge, the 2020 European Challenge. He will be cycling alongside another veteran, Lee Patmore, who uses a wheelchair following for a back injury sustained during his time in the Royal Navy. The two of them will be cycling for 2020 miles, across 22 days to raise £2,020 for Help for Heroes.