On their bikes for Tour O’Booths 2021 in aid of Cure Leukaemia

The countdown has begun to the five day 2021 Tour O’Booths 340-mile cycle ride for Cure Leukaemia. Fiona Finch spoke to four of the cyclists, including Booths’ Chief Operating Officer Nigel Murray, as they geared up for next week's testing challenge.

By Fiona Finch
Monday, 24th May 2021, 3:20 pm

There are many compelling reasons why the Tour O’Booths cyclists are getting on their bikes next week.

Their motivations may be varied, but they will all be united by the same desire to make a difference to a very special charity.

Now they are hoping the public too will back their fundraising campaign for Cure Leukaemia. The cyclists, ranging from executives to shop workers and suppliers, want to raise at least £30,000 for the small charity with the big goal of finding a cure for blood cancer.

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On his bike - Nigel Murray, Booths Chief Operating Officer, gearing up for the Tour O'Booths and the Tour de France route challenge (photo Paul Currie)

Their five day ride, starting on May 24, will take them around, up and across the region stopping at every Booths supermarket store in Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Cumbria as well as at The Christie cancer centre in Manchester.

The Tour is an initiative created by Booths’ Chief Operating Officer Nigel Murray

Nigel hopes that apart from the cash the ride will spread awareness of the charity’s vital work.

Nigel, 51, who was brought up in Darwen and Blackburn, attending QUEGS (Queen Elizabeth Grammar School), began cycling seriously just six years ago. He said: “I used to run a little bit. Before that I was a very unfit heavy smoker. I started to run and then I rode a bike as all part of the plan to get me off cigarettes.”

Aldene Fort gets in some cycling training in Morecambe

His home is now in Harrogate, which he describes as the “epicentre of British road cycling” and his passion has grown. He said: “I’m absolutely obsessed with all things bike.”

But he emphasised: “This ride isn’t just about the cyclists — everyone from the Booths team can share and support in the tour. We have a team of runners running a stretch of the Preston Guild Wheel and a support team to keep us all on track.”

The Tour O’Booths is just part of the fundraising challenge for Nigel. He and one other Booths’ tour cyclist, Booths’ fish supplier Gary Apps will also be joining a team completing the entire Tour de France route in July, (ahead of the competitive race). This team of 25 hopes to raise £1m for Cure Leukaemia, with the Tour O’Booths fundraising contributing to that grand total.

Nigel said: “One of the things I’ve been able to do over the last six or seven months is to understand the charity and patients more and take great strength from literally the daily battle leukaemia sufferers have to go through, as all cancer sufferers do, in going through their treatment. It will just help to spur me on to make sure I get through and finish it.”

Booths hopes their customers will support Cure Leukaemia too (Edwin Booth pictured right)

Regarding the the Tour de France challenge Nigel said: "I’m most looking forward to finishing!...It’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s not going to be an easy challenge. We’ve had many sessions both from physical sports therapists as well assorted coaches to help prepare us.”

For Booths’ supplier Gary, proprietor of the Fleetwood based My Fish Company the the Tour O’Booths is just for starters. Gary, who lives in Over Wyre, plans to then conquer the Tour de France route before marking his 50th birthday in September by cycling with friends from Lisbon to Faro. He will end the year marrying fiancée Hazel on December 28 - a year after their wedding was postponed due to the pandemic

He too has a special reason for supporting Cure Leukemia. His friend David Towne, who helped set up his company’s smokehouse and taught Gary how to smoke fish, died of leukaemia and the rides will be a way of honouring his memory and kindness.

Gary began cycling just two years ago after putting on weight. He said: “I’m relatively new to this - nothing like going in at the deep end. It’s a lovely head space, especially going out the back end of Garstang and Scorton up into the hills.”

Damien McDonald has devised the route for the Tour O'Booths 2021

He has had numerous knee operations so is taking advice from a physiotherapist on how to cope with the demands of the two cycling challenges.

For Aldene Fort, a process assistant at Booths’ Carnforth store, it is an ambition fulfilled to be able to join the Tour O’Booths.

The 65 year old from Morecambe is no stranger to cycling challenges. She created and cycled Rosie’s Ride, a 136-mile ride to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Unit at Wythenshawe Hospital in memory of her daughter in law’s sister Rosie Neath.

She said: “She had cystic fibrosis and died at 29 unfortunately I just wanted to put some effort in to respect her life and raise money for the hospital and say thanks for everything they had done for her. I wasn’t a cyclist at the time.”

She and a colleague cycled from Keswick to Knutsford. She didn’t sign up for the first Tour O’Booths but decided to keep training and was delighted to be selected as a member of the core team this year.

She said: “I’ve improved now and got a fast bike and am hoping I can complete the whole of the Booths stores (tour). I did take a week off (in April) to do more intensive training. In a normal week I’ll go out three of our times and do at least 30 miles. My age is slightly against me - I’m just putting all my efforts in and hoping on the day with team spirit and adrenaline I’ll be able to complete it.”

Photo call - members of the Tour O'Booths team pictured outside Booths central office in Ribbleton

The mother of three is delighted she will be accompanied on the first day of the tour by her son Mike.

Meanwhile Booths' Head of Finance Damien McDonald, 47, from Longridge. has been working to “get the miles in and get the hills in” in preparation for the Tour O’Booths. The former pupil of St Cecilia’s, Longridge, has planned the route of the 340 mile journey taking in all 27 stores, Booths’ head office and distribution centre in Longridge and its Riversway, Preston, manufacturing site.

He too is a relative latecomer to cycling taking up the sport after agreeing to cycle the coast to coast some seven years ago .He said: “I’ve certainly done in excess of 1500 miles this year indoor and out. “

Damien will be part of a core team of eight cycling the whole week, but overall some 50 or 60 colleagues and participants from companies Booths works with will take part.

There will be fund raising buckets for donations in Booths stores, raffles and a range of activities to support Cure Leukaemia.

The route and the target

Booths has set a fund raising target of £30,00 but Chief Operating Officer Nigel Murray believes that will be doubled.

Participants cycling the full five days of the Booths is asked to raise £1,000, those cycling between two stores to raise £50 in sponsorship, those cycling a full day will be asked to raise £150.

Day 1: Ribbleton, Lytham, St Annes, Poulton, Garstang and Fulwood. (64 miles)

Day 2: Penwortham , Longton, Hesketh Bank, Burscough, The Christie, Hale Barns and Knutsford (71 miles)

Day 3; Settle, Clitheroe, Barrowford, Ilkley and Ripon(76 miles)

Day 4: Penrith, Keswick, Windermere, Kendal and Ulverston (70 miles)

Day 5- Kirkby Lonsdale, Milnthorpe, Carforth, Scorforth,, Longridge and and Booths central office in Ribbleton (59 miles)

Cure Leukaemia

Cure Leukaemia funds research nurses and clinical roles at 12 blood cancer centres across the UK, including at The Christie, Manchester. Nigel first learned about Cure Leukaemia after being inspired by the journeys of former England and Crystal Palace footballer Geoff Thomas, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia some 18 years ago and chef and cyclist Hayden Groves.

Geoff was given three months to live, but went into remission in 2004 after receiving a stem cell transplant from his sister Kay.

Nigel said: “I remember watching Geoff Thomas play and I came across his story about three or four years ago. Literally five months after his final chemotherapy treatment he was riding 180 km through France and raising funds. The inner strength, focus and determination I find absolutely outstanding.”

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Gary Apps of My Fish Company, Fleetwood, is in the core team for the Tour O'Booths and plans to ride the Tour de France route too to raise cash for Cure Leukaemia