|Ronnie Russell takes on Cuban Challenge |
|Former Isle of Man Centre road race champion Ronnie Russell embarks on a
trip to Cuba next week.
It will mark the culmination of what has been 10 months of fund raising and
training for a 250 mile Global Charity Challenge cycle ride across the
communist-run Caribbean island.
He leaves the Island next Thursday, October 18, and will be in Cuba for 10
days, during which time he hopes to cover between 40 and 70 miles a day on a
hybrid bicycle supplied by the organisers of the event.
It is being staged to raise money and awareness for the National Deaf
Children's Society (NDCS), which he says will find its way back to the
Island via a whole spectrum of things including parental support, teacher
training and the purchase of special aids for children.
Ronnie, now 46, was one of the Island's leading road racers in the 1970s,
but his ambitions were brought to a sudden and painful halt when he crashed
heavily at Hillberry during practice for the 1979 Manx Grand Prix.
He certainly had a chequered career in road racing and his somewhat
flamboyant riding style led to no fewer than four crashes in just five years
of racing on the Mountain Circuit.
Third in the 1977 Junior behind Kev Riley and Ron Jones, Ronnie had been
hotly tipped for top honours in 1979 and received the backing of well known
Ulster sponsor Hector Neill on the RG500 Joey Dunlop had ridden in the same
year s TT.
Ronnie made what was a virtually fatal error or judgement at the flat out
right hander in the first evening practice and his right leg was virtually
ripped clean off as he thumped the hedge on the apex.
The surgeons at Noble's hospital were sure the leg would have to be
amputated, but Ronnie and his family pleaded with them not to. Amazingly, he
was back riding a motorbike within 12 months, but he never raced again and
lost virtually all mobility in it.
Over the years he has undergone numerous operations and has half an
artificial joint in the right knee.
But he has persevered well with the leg and has used the extensive training
for the Cuba trip to help build up the strength and mobility of the severely
'I read about the Cuba trip in a national newspaper just after Christmas and
thought I'd like to do it, so here I am,' said Ronnie after completing his
solo ride in the recent Shoprite Challenge.
Ronnie was well satisfied with his time of 2 hours 16 minutes for his first
official cycle event over the TT course. He was placed 13th overall, in
among the teams who participated, ironically the same position he finished
in his Manx Grand Prix debut in 1975.
'I also crashed that day,' remembers Ronnie ruefully. 'It was misty on the
mountain and I ran wide at Windy Corner and fell off on the first lap. I got
back on and semi-toured back to the pits where I was going to retire.
'But then I saw the look of thunder on sponsor Des Collins' face and thought
I'd better straighten the clip-on and get back out there. I was glad I did
as I won the newcomers' award in the Junior in the years just prior to there
being a separate Newcomers race.'
Ronnie's times for what were six-lap MGP races in those days were not far
off the same he took for one lap of the same course in the Shoprite
Challenge under his own steam.
He is certainly taking the Cuba challenge seriously and has been putting in
up to 100 miles a week over the past few months to prepare him for the 250
mile ride in what should be pretty hot and humid conditions.
'To be honest I'm not quite sure what to expect in Cuba,' he adds, 'but I'm
certainly looking forward to it.'
He had to raise a minimum of £2,500 for NDCS, but in the event has more than
doubled that sum. Ronnie initially sent out about 300 letters to various
local companies, and says he has received a favourable response.
'Everyone has been very generous, from family and friends to work
colleagues, supermarkets and several companies in the local finance sector.
I'm hoping to raise around £6,000 in total.'
An engineer with the Manx Electric Railway, Ronnie s employers generously
allowed him to have him the free use of a tram to Laxey one evening earlier
in the summer. Once there, he and friends went around the pubs fund raising.
'I'd like to thank everyone who has helped me in whatever way, but most of
all I must express a big thank you to my wife Helen and our children Kirsty
and William who have been most supportive over the past few months.'