MANSFIELD’S London 2012 swimming medallist Rebecca Adlington faces her biggest test since the Olympics this week, as she sets off on a four-day 280-mile charity bike ride in Africa.
The former double Olympic champion flies out to Zambia tomorrow (3rd October), for the Bike for Africa challenge supported by British Gas and UK Sport. The challenge is aiming to raise £50,000 for Sport In Action, a non-government funded organisation that inspires change within impoverished communities through sport.
Adlington will be joined by 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Joanne Jackson, former Commonwealth champion Ross Davenport, and ex-swimmer Melanie Marshall, on the ride from Livingstone to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.
The swimmers have had limited time to train for the bike ride, because of the Olympics, though Adlington has had some advice from one of the best cyclists in the business.
Adlington said: “Cycling is very different to what I’m used to and I’ve struggled a bit with my confidence on the bike, but I’ve done some good test runs in the last few weeks and I’ve spoken to Chris Hoy to get some tips.
“Bike for Africa is a great challenge and I’m really looking forward to getting out to Zambia for what I’m sure will be one of the most amazing and unforgettable experiences of my life.
“It will be one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but riding as part of a team with the other swimmers will definitely spur me on to the end.”
The swimmers will camp at villages along the route so there will be none of the usual home comforts like beds or showers during the four-day challenge.
Davenport said: “I think the swimming training has given us a massive advantage. Swimming is a gruelling sport and to come into something like Bike For Africa is completely different, but we do have that fitness behind us, that engine inside us, that can push us through.
“Also we’re immensely competitive and we’ve got that grit and determination, so hopefully that will get us through the challenge ahead.”
Once in Lusaka, Adlington and team will give swimming lessons to street children and children who have lost parents to AIDS, at a renovated open air pool which Marshall helped to raise funds for.
Jackson said: “I love challenges and so do the other swimmers, so it’s great that we’ve had Bike For Africa to focus on after the Olympics.
“I think it will be quite emotional to see all the children in Zambia, but it will be an amazing feeling to know we’re raising money to help make their lives better.”
Bike for Africa is the brainchild of Marshall - a world, European and Commonwealth medallist -who became an ambassador for Sport In Action when she retired from swimming after the Beijing Olympics.
The charity runs an orphanage for street children and uses sport to educate and inspire children, many of whom have lost their parents to AIDS.
British Gas, the principal partner of British Swimming, is supporting Bike for Africa.
British Gas Brand Director Susie Plume said: “It’s been a remarkable year in which Britain’s Olympians have been a real inspiration, so it’s fantastic to see this team of elite swimmers embarking on such a worthwhile challenge at the end of this momentous summer.
“British Gas wishes everyone the best of luck on what promises to be an incredible and rewarding journey.”
During the Zambia cycle, the swimmers will visit a number of Sport In Action projects and meet young women from Go Sisters, a project supported by UK Sport and focused on empowering girls and young women through sport.
Debbie Lye, UK Sport’s Director of International Development, said: “The Bike for Africa challenge highlights a very important area of UK Sport’s work to support international development. We have a strong commitment to extend opportunities for young people around the world through the inspirational power of sport.
“UK Sport proudly supports these outstanding athletes as they set off to Zambia and look forward to hearing about their experiences.”
Money raised from the Bike For Africa challenge will go towards the construction of a physiotherapy wing for an already existing AIDS hospital. Ideally the challenge will also raise enough money to help build a second orphanage for street children.