World Polio Day – Join the celebration!

It is always easy and rewarding to look back and reflect when you have done something challenging, particularly if you have been successful… I first mentioned the “Smiles per Mile” project in 2013 to my fellow members at the Rotary Club of Portobello. It was all along the lines of “I am going to do a long distance cycle to raise funds for End Polio Now”. But it was only until 2016 that the project had become a reality. The aim was for me to cycle 1200 miles in 12 days between Land’s End and John O’Groats to raise £10000 for End Polio Now whilst involving as many UK Rotary Clubs as possible.


Logistics were complicated… Every time we got a club involved the route changed, and that was just the start. Then came the training. I have always been a cyclist but not one who had done something like this before. It was not easy. I have a busy job and a young family and sacrifices had to be made. It was a physical and mental challenge, with ups and downs as well as a few stitches under my chin (I fell down once during the winter period).

The months of training and preparation flew past and before I knew it, I was standing with my bicycle next to the famous distance marker/pole in Land’s End together with Rotarians from Penzance and St Ives, and also the President and Vice-President and members of my own club who went all the way down South to send me off…I really appreciated that! The training was challenging, but definitely worthwhile. I went through the Cornish hills relatively quickly. However, the British weather had it all in store for me. The first three days I was fully battered (and tanned) by an intense, bright and very hot sun. The effort through Cornwall and Devon wore on my legs… and the sun just made it so much tougher. As I was passing through the Cotswolds (4th day) I was about to give up. But one of the hidden heroes of this story, my wife would not let me throw in the towel. She made sure I kept going, not only then, but all the time.

As the days passed the body got used to the suffering but while the sun relaxed the winds woke up, just in time for the hills across the Lake District. There were many difficult times, but having Rotarians with me, or waiting for me, kept me going. Soon after that I was in Scotland where hills, rain, wind and cold came all together to welcome me. But there were only 4 days more, and they were very enjoyable.

The challenge was complete 13 days after it started because 1 extra day was set aside as a rest day. Funds raised were not near where we wanted them to be (we only had around £6000 when the cycling finished). So the work continued, and this where the Rotary Club of Portobello really stepped up to the plate. Our members got involved in many activities, bucket collections, car boot sales and even organising a concert still to be held. I have also continued to fundraise by giving talks about the project at various clubs myself. We have not stopped. But we are at an excellent point. Today is World Polio Day and we can say that we have made it. A few days ago we managed to complete our £10000 of funds raised to End Polio Now and we thought that there was not better day to announce it than today. We hope that you join us in this celebration that only reminds us that despite all the effort we still need to keep working to End Polio Now. Unfortunately we are not there yet…

A Saint, a stone and other necessary items for a long journey

So it is one day before I start the journey of my life between Land’s End and John O’Groats on a bicycle to End Polio Now. Yesterday there was a lengthy packing session which resulted in a big pile of stuff at home. You simply cannot afford to forget anything!

So there I was in the process of arranging food at one side, clothes at the other, route maps, chargers and accessories there, spares and tools here, etc. Then the clever question made by my 4-year-old daughter came: Daddy are you sure you can carry all that on your bicycle? Are you really sure?


Yes, I packed a lot of stuff, probably the same everyone else does for a similar journey. Amongst all the obvious necessities, there are 2 unique objects that are very special to me. They are the subject of this story.
The first one is a silver medal of St. Christopher with a bicycle around my neck. To be honest I do not normally wear something like this, but in a few days it has become very close to my heart. Last Wednesday it was the last Rotary meeting I attended before setting off to start this challenge. All my fellow Rotarians had arranged to give me this during what was probably the most emotional Rotary meeting I have ever attended. We have really worked so hard at the Rotary Club of Portobello to make this a reality. I am cycling, but all my fellow Rotarians have been through a long journey too. Fundraising has been relentless, car boot sales, raffles, bucket collections, plant sales, parties, you name it… They have done everything they can in both the real and the virtual worlds. So St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers is meant to protect me, but it will also remind me of them and the journey we have come through. I know that the medal will not only give me protection, but also lots of strength.
Then there is something that has travelled so much already, something older than anyone can imagine. It is a very special stone that has probably seen it all. There was once upon a girl who went for a long walk with her father in South Africa. On a sunny day she got attracted by a sparkle in the ground and thought it was a diamond, so she picked it up… This was more than 20 years ago and since that day, this special stone stayed on the pocket of her father who took it everywhere he went whether it was a walk, a marathon, a plane journey or a day at the office… The girl in the story is my wife, and the stone passed to me about 10 years ago when we got engaged. And so the stone keeps travelling: This time across the UK and on a bicycle. It means a lot to me… And now here I am wishing that the distance between Land’s End and John O’Groats was a “stone’s-throw” away. This stone is  a very old stone. It most likely belonged to a witch doctor and was used to grind medicine. It has seen smallpox disappear from the planet, and who knows what else… Will you help me to give it the chance to see polio be eradicated too? With your help we can all witness this. End Polio Now.





Twitter: @Rotary_Porty

End Polio Now

Rotary International

This is how cycling 50 miles in 3 hours feels like…

Long distance cycling is a challenge for anyone. It is not just physically draining, but also mentally. There is always a good amount of fear. Anything unexpected can be frightening, even more so if it can cause you to let everyone down. I am aiming to raise £10 000 for End Polio Now and a lot of people are and will be behind this. It is now my responsibility to be successful and I am doing everything in my hands so it happens that way. Training has been long, hard and enjoyable.

I left home at 2:00 pm. My wife had a commitment at 5:30 pm. Of course family life must continue and I had to be back to spend time with my daughter before that. So I was well aware of the time, just as I will have to be when Rotarians will be joining me or waiting for me. I knew what I needed to do: To test my progress by tackling some hills. For many cyclists the hills are the biggest issue. I enjoy riding uphill, but it is not easy! Hills burn your legs, reduce your speed and swallow your time. They are a challenge for your mind. In anyway… I decided to follow my nose and just care about coming back home on time.

Everything started well, I started pedalling slowly and gradually “warmed up” for the the first 40 minutes, then I increased my pace and my journey eventually took me through Port Seton, North Berwick, East Linton and Garvald. This was where I wanted to be… I started to follow the hills to give my legs a good shake. Don’t ask me which route I took, some of it was known, passing close to Gifford, but mostly I was in new territory. There were mixed feelings of burning legs followed by exhilarating descents… once, twice and many more.

Of course when one enjoys doing something time tends to pass very quickly. This ride was no exception. All of a sudden without knowing exactly where I was I realised that I had to start making may way back as I had about an hour left to ride. The image of my justifiably annoyed wife sprung to mind and I panicked. After what felt like a very long and luckily relatively flat sprint I eventually arrived in Pencaitland. At that point I knew where I was but that is when reality struck: If I didn’t pedal faster than I normally did I would certainly not be on time. I pedalled faster than I ever have before (not many times I have felt burning legs on a descent, but I did this time too)!

Image by Keith Negley

To complicate matters I also had to face another reality, I was not the only one wanting to be at home. It was rush hour and a continuous flow of cars sped by me. In Tranent (just a few miles from home) a reckless move by a white van pushed me awfully close to the kerb. To avoid falling I had to uncleat my feet very quickly and probably not in the way you would normally do. Pain struck immediately and it was difficult to distinguish between a cramp or a muscle badly pulled. The rational thought amidst the mental turmoil of panic and fear was to climb onto the pavement at the next traffic light in order to call home to be picked up. However, as soon as I got there, the pain went as quickly as it came. A few minutes later, I arrived at home and the clock was pointing at 5:02 pm. Not bad!

However, little did I know that this was not the end of my ordeal. Once inside, I stated feeling really cold and I started to shiver. My wife sent me to the shower and immediately took my pulse and blood pressure afterwards (I must have been looking like never before!) Everything was normal and I was simply experiencing the very common symptom of having ran out of fuel (literally). Under the pressure of the ride I had drank all my liquids available but I had forgotten to eat my oat bars, energy gels, etc. I believe I had put my body close to the limit and probably had not “listened” properly.

It is now one day later and looking back in hindsight (the perfect science) I am feeling great and looking forward to my next ride. I have experienced half of what I will experience during only one day of my epic ride. And yes… I think I learnt the lesson and I will now know how to deal it with it for the 26 times that it will happen when I cycle across the UK.




Twitter: @Rotary_Porty

End Polio Now

Rotary International

How the love of your bike can lead you to the love of your life

A few days ago, it was Valentine ’s Day. “Oh , don’t remind me!” I can hear you shout with disgust. I understand. Valentine’s Day is a day with noble intentions: A special day set aside to remember and celebrate the love and relationships in your life. But for so many it has become a painful reminder of the pain and sadness caused by relationships (or the lack thereof). I personally feel that this day has been ruined by commercialism and so my wife and I do not really celebrate it. For us, doing things when we feel like it, and not when commercialism dictates, works best. In the spirit of St. Valentine’s, this blog is all about the successes (or disasters, as you will see) of love and relationships. Of course, if it was not for my bicycle, I never would have met my wife.

Family picture

When I first arrived as a young student at Imperial College in London, it was like I have come to another planet. Everything was overwhelming. Settling in was extremely tough. My first accommodation was at a place run by the Opus Dei. If you have read the Da Vinci Code, you can imagine that there were very strict rules and curfews in place. It was a good arrival point to London: This place gave me all that I would need in terms of accommodation, housekeeping and food on the table. But I am an independent person and so with no specific complaints, I wanted to get out from there to live life by my on rules. I got myself a one bedroom flat. As a consequence I could not always afford bus or tube fares but would do the 2-hour commute every day from North London to South Kensington by bicycle.
I had worked very hard to get where I was. I certainly did not have time for dating or much socialising. Studying was the focus and that suited me. My parents were always very worried about me because I could not dance. In Colombia, if you cannot dance, then your romantic prospects are doomed. They paid for lessons in the hope that I would learn how to dance but to no avail. Two bad ears and two left feet are not a good combination. I had a sister, who was also my best friend and close confidant for many years. She tried to teach me to dance. Unfortunately, she was also unsuccessful. When my sister died (perhaps a story for a later time) I threw myself into my studies for a very long time. I did not really mind to be honest. I did not want to deal with the outside world and it was my way of keeping my mind occupied.

All that changed of course when, one day, by chance I literally stumbled upon the girl that was to become my wife. I was cycling back home from a tough day at the university. My mind was especially occupied. I would often use my cycling time to work out difficult problems I would come across in my studies and for stress relief. That day was no exception. I would be so deeply engaged in thought at times that I would even cycle past my destination by mistake (something that also happens if I take another form transport). Although, I did not pass the flat on that day, instead something much worse happened. Luckily, this occurrence actually ended up to be quite wonderful in the end.

I was cycling through Hampstead Heath, a beautiful park in London. A girl was sitting nearby on a bench, reading a book. She was one of many people on that gorgeously sunny day out reading and enjoying the sunshine. As I was cycling through, I cycled into one of the many ponds dotted around! This particular girl went over to see if I was okay. I was all wet and I felt very embarrassed. “Are you okay?” she asked, and then I said something that was completely out of character. (Don’t ask me how this came out of my mouth!) “I am okay” I replied, “…but I think we need to meet again when I am dry”. She looked at me in silence and for a moment I thought that I had just made a colossal mistake. But to my astonishment, she smiled. And it was one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. “Okay” she said and we exchanged details. The rest, as they say, is history…

Sometimes the biggest accidents in life lead to the greatest discoveries. This girl turned out to be the love of my life. We have been married for close to 9 years now and we have a wonderful little girl. I have been really lucky to have found her.

A lot of things have happened during the last weeks. Training is going well (despite the bad weather we had last week). Many Rotary Clubs around the UK have offered their help and support. All these contributions (as well as a detailed account of my training) deserve a single blog post, so that is what I intend to do for the following blog posts. Please keep coming back and of course, keep on donating!




Twitter: @Rotary_Porty

End Polio Now

Rotary International

Scotsmen and men in tights: They have more in common than you think!

If you have read previous blog posts you might now that I am not British, but I consider Scotland as home and I have proudly worn its national dress on many occasions. It is this experience and the intense cycling training that I am undergoing that has led me to establish various links, as well as discuss some common “myths”


1. A real man wears tights and skirts
‘Why does that man wear a skirt?’It is the question that tends to get on the nerve of every Scot. Those of a more sensitive disposition might even see it as a veiled insult. But to outsiders, it is a perfectly natural question to ask. In all fairness to our visitors, to the uneducated eye, the kilt does look like a skirt. ‘It looks silly!’ I’ve seen many a tourist smirk. The same problem arises with cycling clothes. To the novice, the question: ‘Why do you wear tights?’ is also quite standard and acceptable to ask. Let’s face it, tights and skirts are not ‘traditional men’s attire’.


It is only when you delve deeper into the reasons behind the wearing of these items of clothing that you come to appreciate it. The kilt is centuries old. It is not only a piece of clothing, but also a symbol of the individuality and defiance of a nation that has fought fervently over the centuries to protect their customs and way of life. When a visitor understands the history behind it, it seizes to be seen as a silly costume but rather what it is: Attire of historical importance. It is a symbol of strength and a unique identity that can only be worn with pride.


Cycling gear sits tightly. It improves aerodynamics, reduces weight and on certain occasions can also prevent accidents. If you are new to the sport, the padding in the shorts might make you feel like you are wearing an oversized nappy. It can be hard to get used to at first. But after your first long ride without the right attire, the reason behind wearing tights with a built-in nappy becomes very apparent as you nurse your chafing and saddle sores. Over the years, cycling shorts have become a symbol of endurance, strength and going the extra mile.
To an outsider, both pieces of attire can look very silly. It is only after some education and experience that these outsiders also come to realise the importance and beauty of it all… and why men have to wear them, and proudly so.

2. Commando is the word!
The greatest of myths around kilts, just as with cycling shorts, it is the “norm” not to wear underwear underneath it. Even so, many still do. I always find it intriguing that people become so interested in what goes on in the underwear department as soon as you put on a kilt. This fascination is also sparked when you walk around wearing cycling shorts! Yes, I have seen their questioning  expressions… So, do I wear underwear? It’s for me to know…

3. The real pioneers of Man bags.
In 2006 there was an article in The Guardian newspaper on the advent of the man bag: A fashion satchel to be worn like a traditional handbag. Years ago, most men won’t be seen dead clutching anything that even remotely resembled a purse. The Scots have been centuries ahead of the rest of the country (world) it seems. The sporran, traditionally worn with the kilt is the world’s first ever man bag. A foreign comedian (okay, not too foreign, just English) Michael McIntyre, jokingly referred to it as the ‘cock bag’ because of its location. Cyclists also have something similar (albeit on the opposite side), three handy shirt pockets at the lower back.  f you are in need of more storage space you can also use a very practical saddle bag. For ease of reference, I decided to collectively refer to these useful items as ‘bum bags’!

4. Flashy flashes for a kilt, flashy lights for a bike.
My wife always jokes that I look like a Christmas tree when I go out cycling: A high viz jacket, two (flashing) lights on my helmet and additional lights and reflectors on the bike makes for an elaborate advertisement for road safety. Even so, I am happy to be visibly kitted out. The ‘flashier’ the better. The same can be said for highland dress. Highland dress is very distinctive. Even with just a kilt and a plain shirt on, you will stand out from the crowd. But it is not proper highland dress in the complete sense of the word if it does not also come with long flashes to keep up the socks, kilt pins, a Sghian-dubh (that famous knife that never goes through airport security) and of course, for a real formal do: A Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket which might also make you look a little bit like a woman to the untrained eye… isn’t that bonnie what our Charlie did?


Who would have known that men in tights had so much in common with men in kilts?    I think I will be wearing a fair amount of both this year as I train and go from Rotary Dinner to Rotary Dinner to raise awareness for this project and End Polio Now. I hope I will need more than one bum bag to fill up with all your generous donations. Why don’t you do something today that will make yourself feel as proud as I feel when I wear a kilt (and my cycling gear)? Why not donate to End Polio Now and help me to eradicate this terrible disease? Now is as good a time as any. Any kind of help, no matter how small will be greatly appreciated. So, please share this blog with your friends and do what you can and let’s feel good. Thank you!


Progress Update

Training continues as planned. More Rotary Clubs continue to give us a hand in many ways. The Rotary Clubs of Annan, Pitlochry and Cheadle & District have all offered accommodation along the route. As I have mentioned before, not having to pay for hotels is a great way to help because the equivalent amount of money is then added by myself into the total funds raised for this project. On a worthy note… Rotarians of Cheadle & District will be travelling to India to take the battle against Polio on their own hands. They will participate in a National Immunisation Day!

More information:

Twitter: @Rotary_Porty

The benefits of anger

I am angry. I am angry because we live in a world where many children cannot reach their full potential because Polio still exists. Especially because we are so close to eradicating it, but yet so far… Many children may know how angry they can get but not how far anger can take them. Yes, you read that correctly. Anger can take you places. I learned that one day purely by chance when I was a teenager in the Colombian countryside. Once again, my bicycle is part of the story.

It’s a heart stopping, knuckle whitening drive on winding highway roads up a steep mountain path to Ubaté, the town of my ancestors. Slow diesel trucks and “flotas” (colourful buses) with Jesus or Mary painted on the back abound on this stretch of road, the main artery connecting country to the capital. My mother would pray and swear at the same time as my dad swerved past these slow hindrances at breakneck speed, narrowly missing the oncoming vehicles driving in the opposite direction. This is hardly the worst stretch of road in the country. Highways anywhere in Colombia connect major towns and cities and comprise of a narrow, winding pass snaking its way up and around mountains on top of more mountains. Throw into the mix the occasional landslide, a sprinkling of livestock or people in the road and a dollop of potholes and you have created the perfect recipe for anybody to re-examine their stance on the afterlife more than once. Along the way, stars, shrines and crosses mark where people have died. Yes, driving on the highway in Colombia can turn anyone into a philosopher.

But for a boy, who grew up there, thinking about the afterlife was usually the last thing on my mind as we swerved and dodged our way to Ubaté. I was mostly thinking about how I was going to get away to do some cycling.

Ubaté is a town built on the plains of a river basin. It is a very fertile plain, ideal grazing ground for cattle. Wispy, long green grass covers the landscape and some areas are so wet that sometimes marches form after heavy rains. Eucalyptus and pine trees grow everywhere. The black, wet soil is favourable for anything to grow if the rains come and many locals plant corn, fruit trees and vegetables on the little patches of land that they have. Chickens, dogs, goats and cattle often roam freely. In anyway, for a little boy on a bike, this world offered endless diversion and challenges. Dogs became lions, cows became elephants and Ubaté became a place where you could have endless adventures.

As a child I never ventured too far from the house but sometimes my extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces and everyone else with some connection to the family would go for a walk up the surrounding Gualá Mountains. At the top, we would all have a rest, eat lunch and enjoy the view before heading back down. This bit was always great, especially when the ground was wet and muddy. You could just slide on your bottom, something my mom was never happy about come laundry day! I always wondered what it would be like to ride down those steep mountains on my bicycle. But, as a boy, I never went with my bike. It was very steep and very far and there were many rabid dogs along the way. My dad always used to say that it could not be done.

DSCN3912Gualá Mountains – Yes. They do have a path to be climbed… not by many with a bicycle.

As I reached my teenage years, Ubaté ceased to be this amazing world of adventure and rather turned into a shabby patch of land in the middle of nowhere. I saw things for what (I thought) they were: Dogs were dogs and cows were cows. As far as Ubatè was concerned, it was a case of “been there, done that” for me. There were no real challenges left for me to overcome…apart from the Gualá mountains.

It was on one of those lazy Saturday mornings at the farm house that I discovered the power of Anger. I don’t even remember why I was angry. I just remember that I was very, very angry. And so, as it happens still today, without a thought or a plan in my head, I took my bicycle and went for a ride. Normally, I would pedal until I felt better and go back home. But after 30 minutes I still did not feel any better. I kept on cycling until, as if per chance, I was halfway up the Gualá mountain before I realised what I have done. My legs burned and sweat started to sting my eyes. Every time I tried to stand up to continue pedalling, the wheels would slide on the gravel. If I sat right on the back of the saddle, the front wheel would lift up. It was a challenge. I could walk and push my bike, but that would feel like losing. Not an emotion that would mix well with anger!

When I reached the top (please do not ask after how long), my throat was burning and I had no energy left in my legs. The only thing that I could find to quench my thirst were these plants with thick roots called Pepinos de Agua (water cucumbers). I ate them as I looked down onto the valley below. I could not believe that I had reached the top. My feelings of anger were replaced by feelings of accomplishment. I was now driven by the thrill to fly back down the steep pass all the way home on my bicycle as fast as I could. I could not wait to tell my parents what I did. Funnily enough, other family members later on commented on seeing me and not believing their eyes. A bicycle that high up the mountains was unheard of.

I never would have conquered those mountains on that day if it was not for Anger. Negative emotions are no fun, but I learned that they can be very useful. Use them. Take strength from them. Channel them…put them to good use. Nowadays I am not (always) angry. I used to be very angry for a very long time but cycling helped me. Feel it, let it strengthen you…use it for good and then, let it go.

I promise that I will channel all my emotions, good and bad to successfully complete my ride between Land’s End and John O’Groats. I now need you to channel your thoughts on how you should best support me in this challenge. Ride with me, contact your local newspaper, donate and do what you can. I say it yet again… I cannot do it without you. If you want some ideas on how some people are already contributing then continue reading below.


Training has been going well. Last week I cycled 289 km and climbed 620 m. I trained for a total 11 hours and 37 minutes. The longest ride was 84 km which I completed in 3 hours and 46 minutes.

If you have been reading my blogs you will know that several Rotary Clubs around the UK have pledged their support. But let me tell you about the most recent contributions:

(1) The Rotary Clubs of Carlisle Castle and Carlisle South will join efforts to make bucket collections on the day I cycle through the city. They will also attempt to contact the local press for me to be interviewed.

(2) Rotarians from the Rotary Club of St Ives will join from the beginning of the ride in Land’s End and accompany me until St Ives where the local press will also be contacted, pictures taken and funds hopefully raised.

(3) The Rotary Club of Dalkeith has offered to join me for a short distance along my ride.

There are other Rotary Clubs discussing how best to support me and thinking about how to help to eradicate polio. I will keep telling you about their ideas and progress. For now just remember: You, dear reader, with your contribution however small, can also make history today. So, channel those emotions and do something good. End Polio Now.

More information:

Twitter: @Rotary_Porty

How to get up after a fall

One thing that you realise when you become a serious cyclist, is that the term “blood, sweat and tears” seizes to be a figure of speech and becomes a literal description of a state of being. I warned you that it was going to get tough. I just did not realise that “tough” in this context was going to mean a trip to A&E!

One moment I was happily cycling along, the next I hit the ground with the force of a 10-ton elephant. When these things happen in movies or books, the characters experience an epiphany or come to some sort of insight that would lead them to a greater understanding. Falling serves a purpose. As I was lying there with my face in the dirt, there was no epiphany, only shock and confusion. I could not understand it. I am always a very careful cyclist. There were no ice warnings on the news and in fact I had cycled the previous two days without any problems when it was clearly very icy and bitterly cold. I was wearing my helmet and gear, cycling slowly on a straight path and it just happened. This is real life you see, and unlike the movies there are often no real reasons why bad things happen. They just happen.

There is one good thing about falling hard though… and that is the getting up part. It seems simple enough, but this is where most things can go wrong if you are not careful. After a quick check, I picked up my bicycle, got on and rode it until I got to a place where I could call my wife to be picked up. My lips were bleeding and very painful, the taste of blood strong in my mouth. All I wanted was to go home, clean my face and then continue my day at the office as usual. Unfortunately, that was not to be. In the car, I decided to remove my balaclava to see the extent of the damage and there it was: A big, bloody gash on my chin. After seeing it, my shocked wife ordered me to leave the balaclava on until we arrived to the Royal Infirmary’s A&E. “I have to drive dear” she explained… “The less I know about what is going on underneath there, the better. I do not want to make any accidents on the way!”

So there I was, a reluctant patient in A&E on a Thursday morning getting my face sorted. Mr Brown, the nurse who stitched me up, is also an avid cyclist. “I am thankful to you” he said while pushing the needle through the gash on my chin for the first of four stitches. “You can never know when accidents will happen. But you do keep me in my job”. Mr Brown: If you are reading this, I am happy that you got work. I hope that you will have many, many more years of work. You did a really good job. But please do not take offence when I say that I do not want to see you again!

“At least you have experience in falling!” my wife jokingly said afterwards. When it comes to falling, I have to say, I am a bit of an expert (even though I was lacking some recent practice). If you have read my previous blog, you would know why. Even so, falling is not one of those skills you really want to hone. But this is all very encouraging. I am such an expert at falling, that I am also an expert at getting up. And when you get up after you fall, it means that you do not give up.

A&E Poster - Keep active
Falls can be prevented – keep active

In the A&E there was a very useful little poster titled: “Falls can be prevented – keep active”. Very ironic under the circumstances! Wouldn’t you agree? Even so, one thing I know about falling is that you should get up as soon as you can and try to ignore whoever may be laughing. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes. The next day I spent 60 minutes on the static bicycle and the day after that I had a fantastic ride of 50 km around East Lothian. So I completed my weekly training plan in anyway. I rode 245 kilometres, with a total of 888 metres climbed last week. It may not sound like a lot, but it will increase as I get closer to the start of my 1200-mile in 13 days challenge in Land’s End.

This fall will most definitely leave a scar. Most people see scars are little reminders of times when things did not go to plan. I would d like to think of scars as the tattoos of life. Unfortunately, diseases like Polio don’t just leave scars. Perhaps, on this epic journey I might get more scars but I am happy to get them if it will mean that we (you, dear reader and me) will be successful in raising money to stop polio from destroying lives. Please help me in my effort to donate or share this blog. I cannot do it without you!


The fundraising target of £10000 is already getting closer. Last week saw the opening of our online donations page and “Seize the Day”, an Edinburgh meet group was true to its name and was the first to donate £50. And things only got better… Once I was at home after getting back from the hospital I was cheered up by another £50 donation from Lawrence Marshall, Secretary of the Rotary Club of Portobello (my own club). At the time he was unaware of my recent accident. I was very happy to then also receive an email from David Mills (Secretary of the Rotary Club of Camelford). David, together with his wife Diana and Preta (their lovely black Labrador) have offered to accommodate me on June 6th after my first day of cycling between Land’s End and Camelford. All this really made that fall worthwhile! Thanks, to the Mills family, I could cancel my hotel booking in Camelford and donate the amount saved to the fundraising pot. That puts the total at £185 which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can convert into £555 as part of their pledge to End Polio Now with Rotary International. Not bad having still a few months ahead don’t you think? But there is still a long way to go and your support is still required.

More information:

Twitter: @Rotary_Porty

Are you on the right side of statistics?

There are lies, more lies, and then there are statistics. According to statistics, but also depending on who you read, more than 75% of people have already broken their new year’s resolutions. Luckily for you and me, the bicycle does not judge and it will not hold it against you. This is the story of the lies and statistics that shaped my early childhood. Fortunately, these statistics (and lies) did not shape my life!


This is me as a little boy in Colombia where I grew up. I got my first bike at the age of two. It was the beginning of a love affair that would prove to last a lifetime. I would cycle on the dirt roads and in the streets day in and day out. Little did I know that cycling would take me on various adventures, open up new possibilities and even help me to find my wife!

The problem with statistics is that there is always a very small chance that you can be amongst those people for whom the statistics does not ring true. Learning to cycle is widely accepted as being very easy for most people. Unfortunately, when I first started out, I was on the wrong side of the statistics. I would fall almost every time I went out. I could not keep my balance and always felt dizzy. At one point, I had more scars than friends. Even so, cycling was my escape. Colombian locals today, still remember me as the boy who cycled with a helmet bigger than my bicycle, and then kept doing it while asking for fruits at every house on the road.

My first experiences of school were not very positive. As a matter of fact, I cannot remember most of them. I know what happened because of the stories that I have been told by family, friends, teachers, etc. The ‘people-in-the-know’ more than once told my parents that I was completely stupid and with no solid future. Well, if my parents believed them, and decided to lower their expectations for their son, then this would be the end of the story. As a matter of fact, I probably would not be writing this. After all, according to statistics ‘people-in-the-know’ are (almost) always correct!

Luckily I was blessed by having parents that were utterly committed to my development and growth as a person. They did not accept the opinion of ‘those-in-the-know’ and went as far afield as the USA to find the root of my ‘stupidity’ and cycle balancing problems. Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends used up significant savings and also had to raise money for me to be able to go and be seen by a specialist.

It was discovered that I had Meniere’s disease… an illness that affects the middle ear, hence the problems with hearing and balance. It was not stupidity after all. I had to get hearing aids in both ears. I also had to control this affliction through a specific and rigorous diet.

After discovering the root of the problem, life was a bit better and cycling became more enjoyable than ever. Even so, life was still not easy. I was often teased because of my hearing aids (which at the time were also bigger than my ears) and I had a lot of catch up to do academically. I often came home with a purple nose and bloody sleeves from being in fights. Even so, my bike was there, and after school, no matter how horrible the day, I could climb on it and leave all my worries behind.

Fast forward 30 years, and I am living in Edinburgh now. I still cycle every day and I got a PhD in Civil Engineering at Imperial College London a few years back. I still remember the faces of ‘the-people-in-the-know’ when they saw me arrive back home with a PhD diploma from one of the top ten universities in the world.

Through it all, my bike was there. When I first arrived in London after winning a partial scholarship and being heavily in debt, I did not have enough money for public transport. I would spend 2 hours each day cycling from the university and back at crazy hours while I completed my postgraduate studies. My English was not that good and nobody could understand me very easily. Everything was so different and when things got too much, I had my bike. And it is still there, now helping me (and you) to give back and make others have a better life.

I am now in the final and ever increasing training phase for my epic Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) journey. After lots and lots of reading, preparation, and discussions with those ‘in-the-know’ all my training plans are completed. Everything I need to do from now on until the day I dismount from my bicycle in John O’Groats has been planned to the last detail. Neat little charts and daily exercise routines all set out. From here onwards, these charts and plans will dictate my life. I hope to give all of you avid cyclists and non-cyclists out there the reality. It is going to get tough. Things might get in the way, stuff can happen. I might have to deal with illness or (God forbid) injury. I do not promise anything, but statistically speaking (and you now know how much I believe in statistics!), I have a good record when it comes to overcoming challenges. In fact, my success rate is very high. Sounds promising, won’t you agree?

As you can see, I have first-hand experience of how illness can hamper the chances of children. My disease is not as devastating as Polio and yet it really had a big impact on my life. Because of the help I received, I was able to grow up to reach my full potential. How many children have been confined to a life of misery and hardship unable to reach their full potential due to the devastation caused by Polio? This should not be happening!

I want to live in a world where children can have a real chance. To end Polio would mean that we have succeeded to create a better world. So, get off your seat and donate! Support me, support this worthy cause. Do something good today, help to End Polio Now!

More information:

Twitter: @Rotary_Porty

Look who is cycling (and why)

In the previous blog we told you about our project. This is the summary: A cycle ride between Land’s End and John O’Groats along a 1200 mile route in 13 days. The aim is to raise at least £10000 to End Polio Now. You can support us in any way you can. But we also promised to tell you more about the cyclist… here he is in his own words.


I am Daniel Barreto. Age: 35. That makes me the youngest member at the Rotary Club of Portobello in Edinburgh. My life has had many key milestones…One of them is the day I went to my first Rotary meeting as a guest about 7 years ago. It changed my life forever. I met amazing people and saw how people can make a difference in their community and also have fun while doing it. I have truly enjoyed it. I can only look forward to many more years of Rotary service.

So, why me do I hear you ask…? Have I done such a long cycle ride? No. But I have cycled since I was very young and for more than 10 years cycling has been a part of my daily commute. Currently this daily commute entails 40 km per day. And yes, of course this cycling project has been planned for a long time. More than a daily commute is required to be able to ride 1200 miles in 13 days. Training is on-going. I am battling the freezing winds and very frequent rain at the moment. Some days are pretty tough. But I am on schedule and it is going well. I hope to tell you more about the details of my training and my progression within the next 6 months. Please write me and ask me anything!

Yes, that is all fine…but why cycling? Well apart from the fact that I want to raise funds to End Polio Now, I obviously love cycling and setting challenges for myself. There is a personal reason for doing this ride as well: Nobody’s life is easy and some have it worse than others. Unfortunately for myself, I come from a family where heart problems are quite an issue. When I was 17, my father had a (first) heart attack. These things can easily change your life. Not an easy challenge, but we (my mother, my sister and I) faced it. Four years later my sister died in a tragic accident when she was only 23 years old. My parents went into a profound depression and I started to feel that my only mission was to show them that they could be proud of me and continue living. These challenges have made me strong and are a great part of what I am today. But that was not the end. My father died two years ago after a (second) heart attack. This was something we knew would happen. It was only a matter of time but that fact did not make it easier. My father’s (first) heart attack was unexpected, but also understandable. He was a smoker, who lived a very sedentary and stressful life. He was the youngest of three brothers, all of them suffered from a heart attack at the age of 42. For him it also happened at the age of 42. I have the potential to have those genes too, but I will not wait patiently until I am 42 to get a heart attack. Paraphrasing Descartes: ‘I cycle, therefore I exist!’ It would be a tragedy to miss so much of my daughter’s life who is only 3 years old at the moment.

So yes… life can be challenging, but I am considerably lucky in comparison to many people.

Whenever I get the chance to go and cycle around, I feel so lucky to be able to do this. I have my health and I am trying to keep it for as long as I can. I feel so grateful towards my community and towards Rotary for their kindness and that I can be part of such a great organisation. In a way, this is me trying to say thank you. Thank you to the world for all the good things that I have received. Now it is my time to give back. Yes, I also had many challenges…but every flower garden needs some manure to grow good flowers! End Polio Now is a worthy cause, one that I am proud to support. It is heart breaking that even in the 21st century many children still get polio, a preventable disease, which destroys the lives of those that it touches. Challenges are just a gentle reminder of how much you can help other people. This project is a tiny part of that.

So the ball is on your side now. Please follow us and support us. This is a team effort and a large project which could not be possible without the help of fellow Rotarians and my ever committed family. They are all behind me. We need you now… write me, ask me questions…get involved!



Twitter: (@Rotary_Porty)

For more information on the End Polio Now campaign visit:

For more information on Rotary International visit:

Help us to END POLIO NOW – Support a 1200 mile ride between Land’s End and John O’Groats

We are the Rotary Club of Portobello in Edinburgh (UK). Our youngest and fittest member will cycle between Land’s End and John O’Groats. This is an exciting project to help with the fight to END POLIO NOW. We want all the support we can get.


Polio is a disease that can paralyse and even kill. But it can be avoided, all it requires is immunisation. Rotary International (RI), is one of the biggest charity organisations in the world. It has played a significant role on eradicating this disease around the world since 1979. Many others have joined this effort. Most notably the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation providing a 2-to-1 match for every dollar that Rotary commits to polio eradication until 2018. There are only two countries in the world where polio is still endemic: Pakistan and Afghanistan. Just two countries, but still a significant challenge considering that safety issues can get in the way… but could there be a better moment to focus our efforts and fully eradicate this disease? There are not many possibilities in which every dollar of your investment becomes three times as large while simultaneously changing the world for ever. MAKE HISTORY TODAY.

So here we are joining this world-wide effort. One of our members (we will tell you more about him on a future post) at the Rotary Club of Portobello in Edinburgh will cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats. In case you are reading this outside the UK, these are two opposite geographical extremes in the United Kingdom. It will be a journey of approximately 1200 miles in 13 days. It is a journey that many people have made for fund-raising. But what we want you to support is still a challenge and it is still unique… Not only because the cycle route is much longer route than the average (900 miles) normally cycled, but also because we expect to encourage as many Rotary clubs (and people) as possible to multiply our effort to eradicate polio. Remember… every single coin, note or cheque collected becomes three.

This journey will start on June 6th, 2016. It is long, it is challenging but it is worthwhile and we intend to make of it a great success. We want as many people  as possible to join us on this effort on whatever way they can. There are many ways to help. To name a only a few:

(1) join our rider for a certain distance

(2) help him during the ride –a bed, some water or simply a cheer-

(3) organise your own fund-raising project/event/ride

(4) help us to advertise this project to maximise its impact and of course

(5) donate for the cause

The route? Please have a look here (Cycle Route – Part 1Cycle Route – Part 2) but consider it “tentative”. Why? Because it can still change (i.e. by riding through a specific Rotary club or organisation committed to make a significant contribution). Here is the task: help us to raise at least £10000 which we will (well… the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) convert into £30000 and make history by helping to eradicate polio. This amount of money can provide more than 60000 polio vaccines. A minimum of (approximately) 50 smiles per mile. The same smiles that you can find after polio an immunisation session has been completed. We will keep you updated from now until and beyond the day the ride is completed to share all the good news (training, funds raised, polio progress, people/clubs joining us, etc). For the moment, keep reading this blog which we will update on a weekly basis, but also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and our website for further info. END POLIO NOW. Give us smiles per mile…





Twitter: (@Rotary_Porty)

For more information on the End Polio Now campaign visit:

For more information on Rotary International visit: