Three experienced Manx mountain bikers will compete in the 2019 WEMBO European Mountain Bike 24 Hour Championships, with support from the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.
Longest Day Longest Ride (LDLR) founder Gary Cooper, along with fellow Manx rider Andrew Westmorland and LDLR Ambassador Adrian Beale will travel to Penafiel, Portugal in September to take part in the gruelling endurance test, against some of the best riders from around the world.
The trio are completing the challenge in a bid to help raise awareness and remove the stigma around male mental health, raise funds for local mental health charity Reach IOM and to promote LDLR, the island’s only 24 hour endurance mountain bike event, to an international audience.
The Steam Packet Company is supporting their efforts by assisting with the cost of return ferry travel for the team.
LDLR, which celebrated its 10th anniversary event over the weekend (15th-16th June) at Cohnrenny Community Woodland, goes from strength-to-strength each year thanks to the efforts and commitment of Gary and his team. Over the past decade it has raised more than £35,000 for local charities, with this year’s funds being donated to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Isle of Man.
The 2019 event saw many riders from the UK and abroad travel to the island to compete once again, with others planning to return in 2020. Gary is passionate about mountain biking and the Isle of Man and promotes it at every opportunity, meeting with riders and potential sponsors to spread the word.
He said: ‘It has always been my drive to get the event out there when visiting other events, and will certainly be doing the same this year, particularly in September when I travel to Portugal.
‘I have spent countless hours up at Conrhenny clearing and building new trails in preparation for LDLR, something I’ve found very therapeutic. I could see a result for my days’ work and felt a real sense of achievement knowing I was building not only something that would be enjoyed by hundreds of people at the event, but also a legacy for others to ride and enjoy for years to come.’
Gary has suffered with anxiety and depression for more than 22 years and in December 2018, after months of highs and lows, he tried to take his own life. Fortunately, a friend found him before he took action and he has since been working with a Certified Mental Health Professional, as well as his personal trainer, to focus his energies and mind on the WEMBO European Championships.
‘I started training in February and haven’t looked back since’, he continued. ‘I still struggle on a daily basis but I have something to aim for and am enjoying the training, as hard as it is. I’m really feeling the benefits both physically and more importantly, mentally. Having something to focus on has really helped me get through my lowest points.
‘The message I want to spread is that it’s okay to not be okay. I’m a 47 year old man, husband and father, and I am vulnerable. I will not stay quiet about my illness and experiences, I am not ashamed of what I have done or what I am living with; I will fight this to the end.
‘More needs to be done to help people suffering with mental health, to help remove the stigma and to help save the lives of those too afraid to speak out for fear of ridicule or prejudice. I hope that completing this endurance test will not only help me in overcoming my demons, but help others too.
‘We are very grateful to the Steam Packet Company for offering its support for this trip, and look forward to flying the LDLR flag in Portugal and promoting the Isle of Man as the amazing cycling destination that it is.’
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company Chief Executive Mark Woodward said: ‘Gary has achieved so much with LDLR in such a short time, and is clearly a very dedicated and humbling individual. We wish the trio the best of luck both for the 2019 WEMBO European Mountain Bike 24 Hour Championships and in their efforts to raise awareness of mental health.’
To support Gary and follow his journey, visit: www.gofundme.com/solo-european-champs-to-help-fight-mental-health.