Lt Col Simon Butt and Private Derek Derenalagi still showing their support for the St George's Day Game at the Tour of Duty stop at Adams Park
Wasps Director of Rugby Tony Hanks and forwards coach Trevor Woodman got on their bikes last weekend to give their support to the “Tour of Duty” – a charity ride raising money for a number of charities, including Help for Heroes. The 650-mile, seven-day tour began last Saturday, in Portsmouth, and finishes there today, after passing through places including Aldershot, Bournemouth, Brecon, Gloucester, Shrewsbury, Salisbury and Bournemouth.
Last Sunday’s leg began at Ascot racecourse, heading for Bicester, and Adams Park threw open its doors to welcome the riders for a lunch stop.
Leading the peloton was Private Derek Derenalagi, a man familiar to Wasps supporters for the prominent role he played in promoting last season’s St George’s Day game at Twickenham. Derek lost both his legs in an explosion while serving with the Mercian Regiment in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, in 2007. Since then, the Fijian-born rugby fan has amazed everyone with his determination to lead a normal and active life, and he has his eyes firmly focused on winning a place in Great Britain’s team for the 2012 London Paralympics. He is currently one of the top-ranked shot putters in the world, in his category.
For Messrs. Hanks and Woodman, both keen cyclists, it was an ideal chance to do their bit to support a cause and a man for whom they both have the highest regard. Director of Rugby Hanks said he had no difficulty accepting the invitation to ride alongside him. “Derek’s an inspirational guy, and the boys were really inspired by him when they got to know him through his involvement in St George’s Day. The opportunity to join him for part of his ride was too good to refuse.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Trevor Woodman. “The way Derek’s dealing with what he’s been through is just so impressive. When the chance to join the ride came along, it was important to support him, just as he did so much to support St. George’s Day.”
Sunday’s ride was also an opportunity for the Wasps pair to put in some last-minute training for next weekend’s Tour De France Etape, when they’ll join club chairman Mark Rigby to ride from Pau to Mount Tourmalet, a route which the Tour professionals will be tackling, a few days later.
Woodman admits that it’s a huge challenge. “Back in November, when it was dark and cold and wet, the thought of July sunshine in the south of France was a pretty appealing one. Now that it’s only a few days away, I’m beginning to dread it!”
The 160-kilometre ride culminates with the daunting 20-kilometre ascent of Mount Tourmalet. By then, they’ll have already scaled two mountains, but Tony Hanks says the Wasps contingent will be using Derek’s example to give them the strength to finish. “When we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, at the end of a gruelling day, it’ll help to think of Derek, and all the effort he has to put in to going up hills.”
Amongst the admiring spectators welcoming the Tour of Duty riders to Adams Park were club owner Steve Hayes, and skipper Tom Rees. Steve agrees that Derek’s St George’s Day involvement had a huge effect on everybody at the club. “Derek’s amazing attitude is really highlighting the difficult job our armed forces do, and I’m delighted that Wasps have played their part in supporting them.”
Tom was also happy to give up his free time to support such a worthy cause. “Around the time of the St. George’s Day game, getting involved with the armed forces, and seeing what these guys have gone through, particularly Derek, was very humbling. You sit down and talk to him, and see that he’s just getting on with life. So mentally tough, and it really puts your own problems into perspective.”
Derek himself was just delighted to be amongst friends. “The riding’s been tough, because it’s been so hot, but I’m always thrilled to come here, to Adams Park. I’m always made to feel welcome, and it really does feel as if I’m coming home. I’m just so thrilled and thankful for all the support I’ve received from everybody at the club.”
This cycling challenge is just part of Derek’s build-up for an even bigger event, in two years’ time. “My goal is to represent Great Britain in the London Paralympics, and to win gold. If I do, this will be the first place where I come to show off my medal!”
For a recap on the Tour of Duty visit www.hivh-events.org.
Full details on the St George's Day Game, which formed the association between Wasps, Help for Heroes and Derek are coming soon. The 2011 fixture is confirmed for St George's Day, Saturday 23rd April 2011 KO 5.30pm, at Twickenham and sees a rematch of last year's fixture against Bath - certainly a game not to be missed! Details will be available on www.wasps.co.uk soon.
Click on the speaker icons below to hear from Tony Hanks, Trevor Woodman, Steve Hayes, Tom Rees and Derek Derenalagi.