Chris O’Hare and Gabriella Gratrix are no strangers to a challenge, but this year will see them face the biggest challenge of all, as they set off to cycle around the world.
We talked to Chris about their upcoming challenge, and what led them from their lives of running a business and professional dancing, to living and travelling in a converted prison van!
You might want to get a brew and a cuppa, and settle in for this incredible story…
Hello, my name is Chris O’Hare 🙂 I’m 42 years old, I retired when I was 36! I had previously owned my own business in the construction sector, but decided to get out of the rat race and move to Australia, but then came back… but that’s another story, albeit a great one!!
My partner, or should I say my fiance! Gabriella Gratrix is 45 years old, she previously owned a fancy dress costume shop and also worked as a costumire on cruise ships, but had to give all that up when she met me, “well how else could we travel!”
In her earlier days she was a professional dancer and danced with some famous entertainers!
Our home is a cottage in a very small sleepy country village called Thistleton, which is near Preston in Lancashire, but we are now permanently travelling, we currently live in Spain in a motor-home (well it’s actually a converted prison van) but we could be in a different country next month!
Chris and Gabriella are experienced in organising fundraising events, to support charities close to their hearts. Chris told us more about what led him to supporting charities, and how he has helped in the past.
Within the space of 18 months I had sold my company, retired, immigrated to Australia, moved back to England and finally got divorced. So in the January of 2014, I decided I needed a new challenge to focus on in my life.
I’d helped out in the past doing small fundraising events at my sons primary school, raising money for a children’s orphanage out in Watamu, Kenya, called the Happy House, which was founded by a local lady from Blackpool some years previous.
So I wanted to raise some money for The Happy House, and with my cycling interest decided to create an event. I had always wanted to do a Coast to Coast sportive, so I recruited a team of cyclists with the help of a dear friend of mine, Sean Savage. Sean ran a local cycling club called ‘Poulton Wheelers’ and as we were doing the event in aid of the Happy House in Watamu, we called it ‘Wheelers For Watamu’. It was to be a 150 mile Coast to Coast cycling event from Whitby to Blackpool, completed over one day.
I advertised the event on social media, mainly Facebook, trying to recruit riders to take part in the C2C – it would usually be something like “training ride tomorrow at 7am on the corner of Shard Bridge. Complete strangers would turn up, albeit very good cyclists, it was on that corner that I met Gabriella in the March.
In mid-January I was out with Sean on one of our daily cycling routes, we generally cycled around 500 miles a week come rain or shine, and Sean wasn’t feeling too good. We put it down to over training, so cut the day short. The following day Sean found himself in A&E with suspected kidney stones, several weeks later after many tests Sean was diagnosed with a very rare type of stomach cancer and sadly died 2 years later after a long courageous battle.
The Coast to Coast cycle went ahead, with a team of 20 cyclists – it was a great success and we raised several thousands of pounds. After the event Gabriella joined me and my son, Jacob, to work at the Happy House in Kenya for 5 weeks.
The following year we wanted to help raise some money for a small local charity called The Windmill Youth Group, as they had helped us with the support driving on the Coast to Coast the previous year. We became best friends with the lady that ran the charity, Patricia Appleton, so we decided to do another cycling event. It was to be another coast to coast in a day, but 200 miles this time, Blackpool to Whitby but the long way round. We called our event ‘The Windmill 200, and again it comprised of 20 cyclists and we raised several thousand pounds for the Windmill Youth Group.
Sadly in late 2016 our friend Patricia was diagnosed with ovarian Cancer and died in August 2017, after a short and again courageous battle, her loss is something we will never get over.
Their cycling adventures didn’t stop there, as they set their minds to a cycling tour of Southeast Asia, Europe and beyond!
In March 2016 we cycled over 5000km through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Burma on our Tour of Southeast Asia, with nothing more than our bikes and a tent. At the end of our journey we got engaged on Bamboo Island in Southern Thailand.
Several weeks after our return to the UK, we again set off on our 5000km European Cycling Tour, this time from Blackpool to Malaga in Spain.
2017 was going to be the start of our world cycling tour, flights booked, bikes packed, visas sorted – we were due to fly on the 1st March with no return date. Our tour was to start in Southeast Asia, Vietnam, heading for India, and then onto Nepal, Tibet and Everest, and so on.
Due to our friend Pat having cancer at that time, and because Gabriella’s family has a high history of cancer, she decided to make an appointment at St Marys Hospital to discuss ways of prevention, before our long tour in the March. Gabriella was referred to the Nightingale Centre in Wythenshawe on the 9th February for her first mammogram.
On the day of the mammogram everything seemed fine, no lumps or bumps, but she was called back a week later as they had seen a chalky area on the scan and needed to do another. They said this is the norm with a first scan as they needed something to compare it to, so not to worry. So we were back at the Nightingale on the 15th February, another mammogram, ultra sounds, core biopsy’s… this was starting to get scary!
About a week later we went back to the Nightingale for the results, we sat in that small room with the consultant and he confirmed that Gabriella had DCIS (abnormal cells) in her right breast. We agreed the way forward was for a double mastectomy (non-reconstructive). March 27th soon came and Gabriella had surgery at the Wythenshawe Hospital. Everything went well and she was out the following day, but we now had to wait a week for the results from the oncologist – that was the longest week of my life.
So its results day, once again at the Nightingale Centre sat in the small room with the consultant, and more bad news – the results show it wasn’t DCIS, but instead 3 cancers that are HER2 (human epidermal growth factor) positive, and one of the 2 lymph nodes removed were infected. She was to have 6 cycles of chemotherapy, 1 year of Herceptin Injections, full lymph node removal and tamoxifen for 10 years, this was never expected by the consultant, nor us!
Chemotherapy was finished in August 2017 at the Christie Hospital, then in September Gabriella had all Lymph nodes removed from under her right arm, thankfully this time we had some good news, they came back clear, so out of all 18 nodes removed only the first node that was removed at the time of the double mastectomy had been infected.
Gabriella is now on Herceptin every 3 weeks until June this year.
We first heard about Prevent Breast Cancer with Gabriella being referred to the Nightingale Centre, and throughout this whole experience we have been given the most amazing support by everyone at the Nightingale Centre and Prevent Breast Cancer, and we want to give something back.
We have both sadly lost 2 friends to cancer over the last 2 years, so Prevent Breast Cancer, along with many other charities, are very important.
Not deterred by any hardships, Chris and Gabriella have once again set their minds to that round the world cycle! We asked Chris about their plans, and where exactly the cycle will take them.
We plan to start in July! We don’t have an end date, but it will be for several years.
The amount of miles we’ll cover will be ongoing, as we plan to cycle for several years. We will be cycling thousands of miles over some of the world’s toughest terrain (like the 2016 tour). Many areas won’t have roads and some mountain passes are almost impassable, even harder given the fact our bikes weigh over 55kg when fully loaded with kit.
The total number of countries we’ll visit is unknown, but it will be many! On our last couple of tours in 2016 we cycled Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar Burma, France and Spain. We even spent some time touring around Mexico, but our favourite place was Cambodia. We are looking forward to going back to all these countries, but especially travelling through India and Nepal, not to mention all the other areas I am currently planning.
A challenge like this takes a great deal of training – we asked Chris how he and Gabriella are preparing for the challenge.
Gabriella has always been very fit from a child, from being a full time professional dancer to cycling, running, swimming and fitness instructor, in my earlier years I did a lot of boxing, but I have always mainly focused on cycling but also run, trek and take part in classes at the gym.
We are both normally extremely fit, as we both cycle long distances most days and also run, swim and do various classes at the gym, like spinning, body pump, body combat etc, but due to Gabriella’s Cancer diagnosis at the start of the year we haven’t been able to do our usual activities, so due to it being winter in the UK we decided to live in Spain so that we are able to work on getting back to full fitness, we are currently living in Malaga, it is much easier and more enjoyable being able to train where the sun shines and there is little rain. Gabriella has to fly back to the Christie Hospital for a couple of days every 3 weeks for treatment until June next year, but that’s a small price to pay in exchange for such great weather.
We’re in awe of Chris and Gabriella for their strength and determination! Stay tuned here and on our social media, for updates as Chris and Gabriella prepare for and head off on their round the world adventure.