Sheffield cycling duo head to France to raise money for prostate cancer
Two men from Sheffield are set to take part in a charity cycling event in a bid to raise money for prostate cancer, a cause close to their hearts.
Gary Birch, 58, from Sheffield, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016 after over three years of blood tests and MRI scans, and two biopsies.
And despite having a prostatectomy last year, he is now embarking on a charity cycling event held in France, with his friend Richard Hirst, to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK, a charity that helped him along his journey.
Two years ago, after his diagnosis, Gary, a technical surveyor, was told he could either undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy, have a prostatectomy or have his condition monitored under active surveillance, meaning a trip to the hospital every three months to make sure nothing had changed.
He decided the best option was to live with the condition, and have it monitored over a period of three to five years.
He said: "I chose that thinking I could deal with it, and I lived with it for nine months. But the mental strain was too much, so I had a prostatectomy."
"After the operation I was out of action for eight weeks, I couldn't work so was watching a lot of daytime TV, and kept getting emails from Prostate Cancer UK, and saw the event."
It was then he decided to take part in the Grand Départ Classic, an event that is held to raise money for prostate cancer, and takes place in the Vendée region of western France.
"I wanted to do something for them, and saw this," he said. "I like cycling, but wouldn't class myself as a cycling enthusiast.
"I thought it was a way to give back and lose weight. So, I put it on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to do it with me, and to gain interest."
It was then that his long-term friend Richard, from Stannington, who he had met through his love of Sheffield United, saw the post and instantly got on board.
They have even named their cycling team of two, 'Blades Against Cancer'.
Gary said: "He'd seen me go through my diagnosis, and said we'll do it, and we'll do it together."
The pair have undergone eight months of training to prepare them for the 195km ride, which follows the same route as the first stage of the Tour De France.
"I've been out cycling on the roads, doing gym work and swimming," Gary said. "I've cut down on alcohol, and sacrificed quite a lot."
However, he says that he now feels ready for the event, which will take place on Saturday June 23.
And the pair have managed to raise over Â£4300 so far for the charity, with the hopes they'll be able to raise even more once the event is completed.
Gary said: "I feel excited, nervous and proud that we've managed to raise as much as we can and grateful to Richard for joining me.
"Without his support I wouldn't have gone ahead, but together we can have that final push.
"I've had massive support from my family and friends throughout my journey from diagnosis to now."
The pair will be arriving in France on Friday, before embarking on the 11 hour ride which starts at 7am on Saturday.
Waiting at the finish line will be Gary's wife Beverley, and one of his daughters Millie, along with his long term friend Jill, Richard's partner Mel and his son Charlie - all ready to cheer the pair on as they reach the end.
Since the event started, it has raised over Â£230,000 with all funds going towards the fight against prostate cancer.
You can support the pair at the event by donating money to the cause here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/garybirch18