St Andrews cyclist’s MS fundraising trek round Ireland inspired by his sister
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Richard Sanderson, 37, from St Andrews, made it his mission to raise money and awareness of multiple sclerosis for MS Society Scotland after his sister Emma was diagnosed with the condition about 10 years ago. After a completing a number of sponsored cycles in Scotland and England, he decided to hop on a ferry for a 750 mile tour of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Richard, a software developer, said: “I’ve always wanted to go over there and explore. That’s one thing about cycling that I really enjoy – the exploring. With cycling you can go further than walking but you’re going slower than car travel so you take in a lot more. You get to see more things and get more of a feel of the landscape; it’s like a happy medium.”
Richard’s journey began in Larne on the east coast. He then rode across the island to Donegal before heading down to Limerick and then back up to Belfast across six days.
Richard, who was accompanied by his friend Piper Fowler-Wright on the trip, continued: “It wasn’t quite all the way round Ireland but it was a decent loop. It’s beautiful over there and there are so many different types of landscapes. The rolling green countryside, the real rugged, mountainous or hilly west coast with the cliffs. It’s very varied, like Scotland. One of the highlights was a moment in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, where you’re climbing through the forest, up this hill, then all of a sudden you’re on top and it opens up and it’s just beautiful. Then there were the Cliffs of Moher – they were beautiful.
“I definitely remember the vicious headwind on day two. We were going 300km south and it was just a bang south wind so we faced it for 12 hours. It was good there were two of us because we could take turns going in front and the other one could hide behind.”
Richard says he kept his energy levels up by taking regular food breaks, eating “carbs with my carbs” with a particular favourite being banana sandwiches!
“If you’re riding a bike for 12 hours there are definitely highs and lows of energy,” he said. “I remember being in a very low energy state one day in Lahinch, on the west coast. I just wanted the day to be over. I sat on the ground outside a corner shop, and then I spotted the chip shop next door! I went and got some chips and sat on the ground eating them and it just pulled me round. It’s little stupid things like that you remember.
Richard got into cycling around six years ago after enjoying bike rides as a child.
"I used to work in Dundee, which is about 15 miles away from St Andrews. I remember thinking I’d never manage to cycle there, it’s far too far! - but it’s a slippery slope and eventually you end up going on a bike ride around Ireland!”
In previous challenges, Richard used ‘Strava art’ to spell out the letters M and S with his route using GPS tracking. He invited other cyclists to join him for one letter or one section of the ride. He has also cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats; from London to Edinburgh and back again; and completed an ‘Everesting’ challenge – riding up and down a hill to climb the equivalent height of Mount Everest.
Richard’s latest trip raised almost £800, bringing his total so far to £9,521.17. Some of the money he’s raised has gone directly to the MS Society’s Fife local group. Donations can still be made to his fundraising page at justgiving.com/page/richard-sanderson-tour-of-ireland-2023
He added: “I’m always over the moon when people support me as a proxy to my sister or me as a proxy to MS. It’s amazing to see people engaged with the rides – making comments, donating. It’s good that they’re along for the journey. Emma has relapsing remitting MS and she was diagnosed in her early twenties. MS does affect everything you do. I’m only just beginning to understand how it affects her.”
MS damages the protective coating around the nerves, making it harder to do every day things, like walk, talk, eat and think. It’s an unpredictable condition and it’s different for everyone.