After losing his youngest daughter Artemis to a rare blood cancer, former Singapore expat JODY WOOD and the Rawhides Cycling Club embarked on an epic 1,280km cycling trip to raise funds for cancer research. Jody tells us about the gruelling but special journey.
What’s the story behind Rawhides Cycling Club?
We started in Singapore in around 2012. A few of us would get together on Saturday mornings to cycle the popular Kranji route, which we dubbed the “RCK” – the ‘Rawhides Classic Kranji’. Our original name for the group had been MAMILSING (Middle Aged Men In Lycra In Singapore), however, we thought we could do better than that on our name!
Our numbers have increased since then; there are probably around 50 Rawhides globally – in the UK, the US, Switzerland and, of course, Singapore.
How did you decide on a simultaneous cycling tour in the UK and Singapore to raise funds for cancer research?
In November 2019, Juliana and I lost our beautiful daughter Artemis to Juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia (JMML). I conceived the idea of cycling the length of the UK as quickly as possible both in memory of Artemis and to raise funds for The Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research. I only expected to persuade a few Rawhides to join me. However, everyone in the group was touched by Artemis and her battle with leukaemia and agreed to ride with me. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given how supportive they all were during the time of her diagnosis and treatment.
The Singapore Chapter was extremely supportive and decided to hold their own event in Singapore in solidarity with the UK Rawhides. The expat network in Singapore is very close; when Artemis’s funeral was held in the UK, a mirror service was held simultaneously in Singapore with the same prayers, hymns and eulogy.
How did you and your fellow cyclists prepare for this trip?
The Rawhides trained hard for this event. Those who hadn’t been able to train enough due to work and other commitments had a tough week! In the months before the trip, we were heading out on weekends for back-to-back rides – sometimes longer than 100km. Our families (particularly the Rawhide wives) were very supportive.
What was your favourite stretch of countryside along the way?
The Yorkshire Dales, of course, since it’s where I’m from! We climbed Kidstones, Fleetmoss and Buttertubs – all hills with gradients in excess of 20 percent. In taking on this ride, we wanted to suffer in recognition of Artemis’s suffering. There’s no doubt that we all suffered on the Yorkshire Dales day – one rider lost his vision, became delirious and threw up all over his bike!
How about the most memorable experience on the ride?
I think it was gritting it out in Scotland, climbing glens with awful weather and treacherous traffic. I looked around at the drenched Rawhides suffering without complaint and felt proud of their courage. It was in moments like this that we were really earning the donations made in Artemis’s name.
How was it to reach the end of the journey?
The route finished at Upper Chute in Wiltshire, which is where Artemis was laid to rest at Saint Nicholas’ Church. We were all together. The peloton had become drawn out and separated because of some really big hills. People moved at different paces and it’s not always practical to cycle in a group of 12.
For the final part, though, we were all together – this was like our lap of honour. Five kilometres from the finish line, friends, family and supporters came out to cheer us on. We’d come through a village and there’d be a bunch of people banging on pans. About a kilometre from the end, some of the children cycled along with us. It was pretty euphoric really. For me, the personal motivation for doing this is to make sure Artemis is remembered everywhere we go.
Has this cycling trip changed the way you approach adversity?
I don’t think so; it’s been part of how we approached adversity throughout Artemis’s illness. When faced with something particularly overwhelming and horrific, my modus operandi is to try and do something positive. I always thought we’d manage to save her and obviously I was wrong. There’s plenty of time for weeping in a graveyard. But, if you want to remember someone, you have to try and do it in a positive way.
I think raising money to stop it happening to other kids, getting my friends together to talk about Artemis and having her name on the collaboration hub is a better way to remember her than falling into a well of despair – which I can’t afford to do because I have two other little girls who need me. We plan to carry on doing things like this to make sure that nobody ever forgets who she was.
Was there a reason why you chose to support these charities?
Professor Mel Greaves – who is part of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and also affiliated with the Royal Marsden – has really dedicated his life to researching the causes of leukaemia and blood disorders. So it was very important to Juliana that the monies were directed to his research into understanding the causes and prevention of leukaemia.
Artemis was perfectly healthy in her first year in Singapore, so we really want to know what triggered the disease when we moved back to the UK. She caught a very bad virus on her way home – maybe that somehow triggered an underlying disposition to the blood disorder that she had.
The ICR has been very kind and they are naming one of the collaboration hubs after her, the Artemis Alice Wood Collaboration Hub.
What’s the next big challenge?
I’m handing that one over to my wife – she’s talking about putting on a rock concert. It’s going to be called Woodchick, which is obviously a play on Woodstock, and what we used to call our three little girls, the Woodchicks. We’re going to get some great bands and try to raise another big chunk of money for childhood leukaemia research.
What advice would you give someone who’s found themselves in the role of caregiver to a person fighting cancer?
Be strong, dig deep, share your feelings and do whatever you can to try and influence the journey and the outcome in as positive a way as possible.
How can our readers help?
They can donate to the Rawhides Ride 4 Artemis to swell the war chest to fight leukaemia and blood disorders, which cause children to suffer the horrors of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. We would love to make it to the £200,000 mark.
Visit virginmoneygiving.com/Team/RawhidesRiding4Artemis to help.
This article first appeared in the October 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!