Phil Gallant is gearing up for the next challenge in his crusade against cancer.
Having recently returned home to Sydney, Australia, after a short holiday visiting family and friends in the UK and riding bikes in the mountains of Switzerland and France, Phil has his eyes fixed on the forthcoming Tour de Cure (TDC) Signature Tour.
The Tour is a long-distance bike ride, typically covering around 1,500km over 10 days across Australia, with all funds raised used to fund cancer research, support and prevention projects.
Phil, a freelance IT contractor, was brought up in Leeds and moved to Sydney with his partner Sarah in January 2008.
“I’ve settled in a suburb of Sydney called Manly, it’s a great spot on what’s known as the Northern Beaches.” Phil told The Universe.
The couple’s future was cruelly snatched from them in March 2010 when Sarah died from melanoma – an aggressive form of skin cancer.
In the aftermath of this heartbreaking event, Phil received an email from a concerned friend who mentioned a potential new interest, which would help him to both move on and raise funds for those suffering from cancer.
“She basically said, ‘I’ve got a friend who’s been involved with something called ‘Ride for a Cure’, it’s a long distance bike ride with a great group of people to raise funds for cancer’. She said, ‘This guy has done it and loved it, what about doing something like that?’
“Initially I was quite excited but also daunted by it as I wasn’t really a bike rider – I had a mountain bike which I messed about on every three or four weeks.”
Initially Phil could not find much information on Ride for a Cure, however a chance meeting with two bike riders, who have since become very good friends of his, shed some light on the charity.
“They parked their bikes and had a coffee next to me. I looked over and their riding kit had ‘Tour de Cure’ all across the back of it. That was the light bulb moment – I realised what I was looking for was Tour de Cure not Ride for a Cure.”
Phil admitted that he immediately knew it was something that he was very interested in. “It ticked a lot of boxes; challenge, adventure, fitness and the opportunity to see rural Australia.” He was also attracted by the chance to meet a new group of people – which is exactly what has happened through his involvement with TDC.
“When you put that all together in the wrapper of helping to find a cure for cancer – given what had happened to Sarah – it was immediate, it was just, ‘well why wouldn’t I do it?’”
Tour de Cure, a tier-one cancer charity, was founded by Geoff Coombes, Gary Bertwistle and Sam Hollier in May 2007, and since then has raised in excess of AUS$25 million and funded over 252 cancer research, support and prevention projects – including 12 cancer breakthroughs.
Phil explained that the charity had “grown organically” and one of the key points is that it is very small in terms of numbers of people, with fewer than 10 employees, which keeps overheads down and enables throughput to projects and research to be maximised.
He also pointed out that from the outset the charity has been fortunate to have been supported by a great network of highly motivated individuals.
“It’s not all people who have lost someone to cancer or have had cancer, there are people who have lost someone and there are people who’ve had cancer; but there are also a large number of people who don’t fall into either category – however, what we all have in common is that everyone is committed to making a difference and to helping cure cancer.”
Phil explained that the network has expanded over time, with new people getting involved every year and, as well as this, there has been significant corporate involvement as the charity has become more established and well known. Corporate partners include the likes of Lexus, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and OPTUS – one of Australia’s largest telecom companies.
He explained that on tour the riders were broken down into groups of around 12 people, with each team sponsored by a corporate partner. The support of the corporate partners is invaluable to an organisation such as Tour de Cure – for example, Phil said, Lexus, the car manufacturer, had offered their support from the beginning by generously providing high-quality vehicles which are used as support vehicles on Tour.
Initially Tour de Cure ran only the Signature Tour each year, however as the charity has grown they have added other country tours and corporate tours that follow the same structure but are shorter in duration, at three to four days in length.
Taking part is still a huge commitment, however. Phil said that riders on the various tours, unless blessed with extraordinary fitness and physique, could not just turn up on the day and expect to complete the Signature Tour – it’s a big commitment and training is needed.
“Typically we’ll train hard for the three to four months in the lead up to Tour. That means multiple rides per week, often with very early starts and covering distances of up to 150km, however no matter how much you train you can’t really replicate the experience of riding on Tour for 10 long days in a row.
“There’s no rest day, you don’t get a day off in the middle or anything like that. You basically ride into it and even though you’re fit when you start you get stronger as the Tour goes on.”
There have been 10 Signature Tours in total, of which Phil has taken part in six and next year’s will be his seventh.
“The first one I did was in a support role – driving one of the vehicles – and the other five were as a rider. Each Tour is an amazing experience; however each one is very different. The route varies each year; this year was Brisbane to Sydney however in the past we’ve gone from Sydney to Hobart, Sydney to
Melbourne and Adelaide to Canberra for example.”
However, there is one constant – “They’re all challenging and hugely rewarding”.
Phil recalled a number of memorable moments from previous Signature Tours, revealing that the most challenging was his first as a rider in 2012. “That first one is a hugely positive but intense experience,” he said. “You don’t know what to expect. Until you’ve actually experienced it you don’t know what it’s like to do ten long rides in a row.
“Physically you don’t know how your body will react and then there’s the mental intensity of being on Tour as there’s very little downtime and you are exposed to a lot of emotion each and every day.”
However, Phil explained that it is always important to remember the real reason they take part in the bike rides.
“The reality is that the Tour isn’t about riding bikes, it’s a charity dedicated to helping find cures for cancer and to help those suffering from it. The bike riding is basically the means of transport to get us from A to B.”
Phil admitted that raising funds and awareness for cancer through Tour de Cure had helped him come to terms with Sarah’s death.
“My first contact with Tour de Cure was four or five months after Sarah died and the first Signature Tour I did was in April 2011, just over 12 months after Sarah died. At the time of the first anniversary of Sarah’s death I was getting ready to go on tour and being around the other team members was a huge help in getting through what was a very difficult period”.
Raising funds and awareness for cancer gave Phil a new focus in life and meeting other people who’d lost people to the disease also helped, giving him the opportunity to talk and share his feelings.
“Obviously losing somebody close to you is something very personal and immensely sad, but to have the opportunity to take that hugely negative experience and to make something positive out of it helped with the process of grieving and it has continued to since.
“I’m a long way through that process now and while Sarah will never be forgotten, involvement with Tour de Cure has been an enormous help in dealing with what happened.”
About a year after he got involved with Tour de Cure, Phil contacted the Melanoma Institute of Australia (MIA) – who had run a clinical trial that Sarah was on during her illness – and told them about Tour de Cure and their mission to help find cures for cancer.
He explained how Tour de Cure does not give funds to generic bodies – grants are given directly to researchers working on cancer research projects. Organisations and individuals approach Tour de Cure with proposals for research and, following a review of the proposed work by a medical panel, a limited number of projects are selected for funding.
Following his phone call, Melanoma Institute of Australia got in touch with Tour de Cure and the charity co-funded a major piece of research that was being carried out by the MIA.
“That was a very special thing for me as in a way it completed the circle; Sarah had been suffering from melanoma, she’d been on a clinical trial run by the MIA, I had got involved with Tour de Cure, and now Tour de Cure was funding a piece of work being carried out by the Melanoma Institute to help prevent other people from suffering as Sarah had.”
Phil, who has now raised around AUS$60,000 in total for Tour de Cure, admitted that he is very proud of the charity for what it represents as an organisation and what it has achieved over the past ten years.
“There are a lot of people who give a huge amount to Tour de Cure but we all get a lot more out of it than we put in. It’s a hard thing to put into words but to be involved with a small organisation, and an amazing group of individuals, who together have raised in excess of $25 million to help others, is a very special and humbling experience.
“You can’t be involved with Tour de Cure and not be enriched by the experience, it’s a very special thing to be involved with and on a personal level it makes me very proud to feel that I’ve played a small part in helping to end the senseless loss and suffering caused by cancer.
“Out of the worst thing that has happened in my life has come one of the best experiences in my life, helping to raise funds and awareness of cancer through Tour de Cure.”
Next year’s Signature Tour takes place from 24th March to 1st April 2017, with riders cycling from Mount Hotham in the Victorian Alps to Hobart, the capital of the state of Tasmania. Each rider is required to raise AUS$12,000.
Phil relies heavily on family and friends’ donations, as a lot of his friends in Australia are part of Tour de Cure and are carrying out their own fundraising.
To support Phil on his forthcoming Signature Tour 2017 or for more information on the Tour de Cure, see www.tourdecure.com.au. To support Phil, search for ‘Phil Gallant’.
Picture: Phil Gallant leads the Tour de Cure riders through Darling Harbour, Sydney, during May 2016.