The Armagh-born co-founder of an Irish charity cycle has reflected on 37 years of fundraising as the 2024 event approaches.
Martin Rocks, who is originally from Clady, was one of the founding members of the Galway Cycle, set up in 1987 while Martin was at college in Maynooth, Co. Kildare.
The aim of the cycle, which would start from the college gates and finish in Eyre Square – Galway, was to raise money for a local children’s charity.
With the exception of 2020 (due to the pandemic) the cycle has taken place every year since its formation and raised over €2 million along the way.
This year’s event is set to take place over the weekend of April 5 to April 7 and will involve between 100 and 300 cyclists making their way from Maynooth College to Galway and back.
The huge convoy of cyclists and support crew will leave Maynooth on the Friday, before cycling back on the Sunday, a distance of 200km each way.
Speaking to Armagh I about the cycle’s origin, Martin said: ” There was a group of students who wanted to make a difference and raise money for charity. Rather than just do something that you could just jump and go out and do, we wanted to make it a bit special.
“It was just a case where a group of lads got together and did it… I said if we’re going to do it we’re going to do it right, so we made an event that is tough but at the same time people can manage it.”
The first Galway Cycle was a small affair, with only eight cyclists and one support car – today, the event could have approximately 300 cyclists, 25 support vehicles and over 30 members of support crew – all in one convoy.
This year’s benefitting charity is the Little Blue Heroes Foundation, a not-for-profit charity voluntarily led by Garda members, retired Garda members and civic-minded people from communities across Ireland. Their work focuses on helping children who are terminally or critically ill.
“We raise the guts of a hundred grand a year”, Martin explained. “Last year was eighty grand that we handed over to charity. It’s getting tougher every year, for a number of reasons, but the good thing about it is that nobody gets paid out of this. This is all voluntary. Everything we raise goes to the charity that’s been chosen.”
With the event fast approaching, training is getting underway and while it may seem daunting for most, Martin is keen to emphasise the support and help that is available for those taking part.
“We start from total novices who haven’t been on a bike before. We take them out for our 20k spin and we build them up, so two weeks prior to the event they’re out and doing 100k. We take people of all levels.
“One thing we do is we start as a group and we finish as a group. There’s nobody left behind, it’s one complete peloton from start to finish. You have a lead vehicle, you have support vehicles, including two ambulances, we have vans that can people people up if necessary and we have food.
“There’s been years where we’ve had 300 people on the road. A lot of people come back on a yearly basis simply because they feel safe. They know they have the back up on the road.”
Continued Martin: “It’s not an easy event, don’t get me wrong, but people know they’ve got support on the road, which is vitally important. If any stage they have to get off their bike or feel tired they know they’ll be collected and taken to the next stage.
“If anything major goes wrong we’re able to pick everybody up from the road if we have to. We run it that way that from start to finish people feel totally secure and safe.”
He added: “The whole motto is ‘charity, cycling and craic’, that’s the model behind it. It’s one large family and that’s the bottom line.
For Martin and the committee, organising the whole affair is by no means an easy feat, as the event is supported by a vast range of support workers, drivers, medical staff and not to mention increasing insurance costs.
“It’s a big event. A lot goes into it and there’s a lot of preparation. It’s got to the stage where you’re finishing one year, you do the presentation and you’re already planning for the following year.”
Thankfully, the event is well supported by the local community who do what they can to aid each year’s vital charity.
Said Martin: “The only reason we can do it is because of the amount of sponsorship that we get from people and companies that come on board. The event wouldn’t happen without the people who support it, the sponsors and the people who come on the weekend itself, because it’s an expense to them.
“Our outriders don’t take a penny and don’t even let us pay for the fuel. They come and they support us on the road and they look after their own accommodation. If those guys weren’t there, yes the cycle would go ahead, but it’d be a hell of a lot more difficult.
“It’s people like that and their goodwill coming to the party that allows this event to run. There’s nobody getting a pay check out of this.”
Added Martin: “For anybody that wants to come, they’re more than welcome. It’s a good weekend and good craic, they will enjoy it. We try to keep it at an average pace of 25kmph and it’s not the case that people can go ahead of the lead van.
“If you’re taking part in this event, we’re doing it as one group and that’s the beauty of it.”
Visit galwaycycle.ie to find out more information including details on how to take part.