The British women’s volleyball team set off on a 270-mile bike ride from Sheffield to London tomorrow to raise money to finance their Olympic preparations.
The 18 players – some of whom haven’t touched a bike for years – will take four days to reach London, arriving two years to the day before the opening ceremony in 2012.
On the way the players will take part in demonstration volleyball events, offer the public rides on a seven-seater bike, provide an inflatable volleyball court, and generally spread the word about their mission to raise £250,000 to maintain their training programme over the winter.
The team’s preparation programme was recently suspended for eight months due to a funding squeeze so the players took it upon themselves to do something to keep their Olympic hopes alive.
The sport as a whole (indoor, beach and sitting) qualified for funding of £4.3 million over four years from UK Sport – set at that level because of their previous lack of Olympic experience - but the GB women’s squad are now determined to make up any shortfall themselves.
The team will cycle through Nottingham, Loughborough, Leicester, Stratford, Oxford, Reading, Hampton Court, Richmond Park, Westminster, and Trafalgar Square before finishing at Earls Court, the Olympic Volleyball venue, on Tuesday evening, 27 July.
They have some high-profile support too. Five times Olympic gold medalist, Sir Steve Redgrave said, "As someone who competed at five Olympics, and almost all of them with an overdraft, I understand what it's like to strive for a goal on very little money.
“My ambition was to win an Olympic gold medal and I was stubborn enough to keep going. The GB women's volleyball team have a similar ambition – to compete in London 2012 as the very best athletes they can be. That is all you can ask of yourself. I applaud their dedication and taking responsibility for themselves in these difficult financial times. I wish them well and hope they do our country proud in London.”
Dame Kelly Holmes has also sent a message of support. She said, “I know only too well how difficult it can be to ensure that everything is right for you to produce that perfect performance on the biggest stage of all, the Olympic Games. Elite sports men and women face many challenges on their way to the top, and unfortunately in these current times, funding and financial backing is an increasingly common issue.
“I wish the GB Women’s Volleyball every success with their efforts, and sincerely hope that the Cycle 250 brings the rewards it deserves. Your team spirit is there for all to see and I look forward to seeing you on the Olympic stage in 2012.”
During the ride, the squad and staff will be staying in donated accommodation from army barracks to a conference hotel. Among other things, they’ll play beach volleyball on the Market Square in Nottingham, meet the Mayor of Leicester, cycle round the track where Sir Roger Bannister famously broke the four-minute-mile in Oxford and join the Countdown-to-London celebrations in the capital.
The team have already had to make numerous personal sacrifices to keep their hopes alive. One of the squad, 29 year-old Jenn Taylor, is a teacher from Derby who handed in her notice this month, trading job, security and home for the uncertainty of trying to find a playing contract in Europe. She already drives to Sheffield every day for training (a round-trip of 127 miles) but renting out her home and leaving her job is the biggest sacrifice so far.
She originally decided to quit the programme and concentrate on her career full-time. But she changed her mind. "I just couldn't do it. Miss out on the one-and-only Olympic opportunity of my life. I'm scared to death, but I'm still incredibly lucky to perhaps have the honour of representing my country."
Among those donating goods and services to the GB women’s cause are Wiggle, for cycle clothing, and Get Cycling for the bikes.
Find out more and see how you can support the team on the GB women's volleyball team site.