We first met Danny in the spring of 2012. Danny, who was paralysed from the chest down as a result of a childhood accident, had been instrumental in persuading otherwise sane people that the challenge of riding from London to Paris in just three days was achievable. This is an event aimed at the serious endurance rider, on the bucket list for wannabe pros, not something previously considered as feasible for hand cyclists.
Perhaps none of us fully appreciated how tough this was going to be, maybe if we had the whole project would never have got off the ground. But then Danny had the bit between his teeth and beneath that angelic, choir boy face was a will of steel. Riding 507km in 3 days is no mean feat for any endurance athlete, but for Danny, Alan and Luke, all of whom have a spinal cord injury this was going to be a monumental task. We all sensed that we were on the brink of something special but none of us had any idea just how hard it would be.
What followed was truly a test for every single person involved. We had the worst weather imaginable thrown at us on the first two days and, for the hand cyclists the hills were tough and relentless. By the end of the second day we were all utterly exhausted and doubted we could make it to join the victory procession into Paris. Closing roads in a major European city is not an easy task, the timings had been negotiated months in advance and there was no room for manoeuvre. At the rate of progress over the first two days we would be too slow to get to the outskirts of Paris in time. Some, their bodies and spirits broken, were ready to give up.
But with difficult decisions to be made, Danny was not prepared for his dreams to be shattered and together with the HotChillee Ride Captains a plan was forged out; cut off times were set at regular intervals along the route for the final day, and as long as we were ahead of these we could keep going. Failure, and we would be pulled off the road. An early start the next day meant little sleep again, but every person knew what was expected of them. Most of the upright cyclists had already travelled further into their mental and physical reserves than they had ever expected, yet they knew that what they felt could never compare with what Danny, Alan and Luke were experiencing.
We rode faster than ever before as the collective will gave us all hitherto unknown power. And yes, we reached the goal, we beat all the timing points, we beat all expectations and that day it seemed that we had pushed the extremes of human endeavour to new levels. Danny had a vision, he had a dream and he made it his own. What he achieved despite the many medical implications of his SCI is frankly remarkable.
The last few kilometres into Paris were an emotional rollercoaster. Danny, Alan and Luke led a 450 strong procession past the Arc de Triomphe and finished triumphantly under La Tour Eiffel. Uncontrollable tears flowed freely as too did just a few bottles of champagne.
Anyone involved in the London-Paris 2012 cannot fail to have been changed. Danny exhibited grit, determination, inner-strength, good grace when faced with adversity and he had the skill and intelligence to deftly and rationally discern which options were worth fighting for. He knew how to get the best from his mind and his body. Finally over those three days he never stopped smiling, even when he must have been exhausted, he still smiled, a beautiful smile just full of life.
Tragically Danny died of cancer last year. News which moved many at HotChillee deeply and felt especially by Head Ride Captain Juliette Clark who rode side by side with him on his journey to Paris. So when we were approached by Danny’s wife Susie about putting on a ride in his memory we were deeply honoured to be asked.