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Cardiff Met Staff and Students Train Help for Heroes Athletes in Cycle Race Across America



​Dr Paul Smith from Cardiff School of Sport with handcyclist Michael Swain. 

A Cardiff Met Doctor and students are gearing up to join a team of wounded, injured and sick cyclists and hand cyclists for Race Across America (RAAM.)

Individuals are able to enter the gruelling 35-year-old endurance race along San Diego's Pacific Coast, but since 1991 teams of two, four or eight have also been able to take part and their support crew need to be just as prepared for the 3,081 miles and 175,000 ft climb that the race covers.

Paul Smith, Cardiff School of Sport's Programme Director of Sport and Exercise Science and Jonpaul Nevin were part of the support crew for the 2012 team of four wounded, injured and sick (WIS) upright cyclists and four handcyclists who entered RAAM with Help for Heroes' support and went on to raise £100k for the charity in the process.

MSc Sport and Exercise Science student Alex Hunt will also be part of this year's support crew with Paul and Jonpaul. Alex was initially helping out with training sessions for an Independent Study module, but has since become a bona fide member of the support crew which will accompany the team during their three week trip to the USA next month. This year's Help for Heroes team, which is more experienced – and ambitious – have set themselves a challenging target to finish the extended 3,081 mile course across the Sierra, Rocky and Appalachian mountain ranges within six and a half to seven days.

The eight-man team record is currently held by Team Allied Forces who completed their 2,962 miles, transcontinental journey in five days, three hours and 45 minutes in 2013, averaging a remarkable 24.19 miles per hour.

Injuries sustained by riders on the squad include mild traumatic brain injuries; single below knee amputations; extensive multiple limb poly-trauma; single below elbow amputee with lower limb poly-trauma; and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Paul Smith said: "The importance of the support crew stems from the format of the RAAM: unlike any other grand tour, it's not a staged event, but a continual stage - more or less a time trial - and the clock does not stop until the cyclists crosses the finish line.

"We were quite sure RAAM2012 was going to be an epic adventure irrespective of which team you were part of, and whether you were involved as a rider or a support crew member, but due to the background of the cyclists we worked with, our experiences were particularly special. The relatively inexperienced team of wounded, injured and sick cyclists set themselves the ambitious goal to complete the 3,051 miles race in less than nine days, but they far surpassed this by crossing the finish line after only seven days, seven hours and 38 minutes.

"This time we are forewarned and in a better position to enable the entire team to be better prepared, and are far more strategic compared to 2012. This time we have a number of veteran support crew members and an experienced handcyclist and Paralympian Joe Townsend, who was also a member of Team Battle Back in 2012 and has since taken on Paratriathlon and competed in Rio last Summer.

"Although the final team hasn't been finalised yet, we know the team will include two double lower extremity amputees and a triple amputee, with Joe as H4H RAAM2017 Team Captain."

A 20-strong squad participated in three challenging monthly training weekends at the beginning of the year at the Help for Heroes recovery centre, based at Tedworth House in Wiltshire. Paul and Jonpaul's involvement included facilitating and monitoring various rigorous laboratory tests, time trials and memory tests, through poetry recall and recital.

A research team from Cardiff Met and Coventry University also supported the project by taking measurements of mechanical efficiency, metabolic thresholds and peak physiological responses throughout the various training weekends. These study results are very interesting and will inform future training regimes used by handcyclists.

Jonpaul also carried out a pilot research study, as part of his MSc in Strength and Conditioning at St Mary's University, Twickenham. This explored the relative merits of eight weeks' concurrent strength and endurance training programme for handcyclists compared with traditional endurance training alone.

Jonpaul said: "It is great to have Paul on the team again. his contribution will be considerable. Not only have Paul and Alex helped during the training weekends we have had to date, but they have also been a central part of the scientific testing of our handcyclists. Paul's expertise in handcycling, his general knowledge of the RAAM, and his general banter will certainly help the riders achieve their ambitious goal."

Paul added: "I can't quite believe we're doing this again. At the end of RAAM2012 JP said "NEVER AGAIN", but when I got the call last October I signed up immediately. We hope the riders are successful in achieving their goal, but more important is the fact that their endeavours will inspire others to become more physically active, more independent and, ultimately, achieve a better quality of life."

Once again, Help for Heroes are providing financial support for the eight riders and 17 support crew members to compete in RAAM2017, and the team is raising money for this prominent charity. If you would like to make a donation please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Paul-M-Smith1