Osborn smashes through £2,000-barrier at end of 350-mile charity cycle ride
By CONRAD SUTCLIFFE
SADDLE sore but happy! That’s how Newton Spurs goalkeeper Neal Osborn felt after exceeding all his expectations at the end of a 350-mile charity bike ride.
Osborn, 21, embarked on a sponsored seven-day tour of south and east Devon by bike to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.
Paul Osborn, Neal’s 61-year-old father, nearly died four years ago when he suffered a massive heart attack at work and owes his life to dedicated paramedics who refused to give up when they could not get his heart restarted.
“Paramedics kept me alive on the way to hospital in Taunton, but they kept losing me then having to get me back,” said Paul, a site manager for a property company.
“I think I was on the seventh attempt when the team at A&E in Musgrove Park got me restarted for the last time.”
Neal, who also plays cricket for Devon League side Torquay, set himself a target of raising £500 for the BHF as a thank-you for their work, which helped save his father’s life.
Neal passed within two days of clambering into the saddle and by the time he returned to work as a primary school PE coach on Monday morning the running total stood at more than £2,000.
“Some of the kids had donations they wanted to give me – and they wanted to hear all about the ride too,” said Neal, whose family home is in Kingskerswell.
The bike marathon was gruelling – a 50-mile ride every day for a week during the half-term break – but Neal said it was hugely worthwhile.
“Old friends from my primary school days I had not heard from for years got in touch to sponsor me – as did past and present team-mates from Torquay CC, Newton Spurs and elsewhere,” said Osborn, who spent two years in the youth academy at Premier League side Southampton after leaving Torquay Boys’ Grammar School at 16.
“Some of them – the Hancox brothers Will and Sam, and Sammy Palmer – even joined me for a day or more while I was riding.
“When I decided to take on this challenge I was worried it might be hard reaching £500. I had no idea the total would exceed £2,000.
“Without organisations like the BHF it is unlikely my dad would still be alive, which makes ever pound raised for them so important for others in the future.”
Neal really was saddle sore long before the ride finished when he and dad Paul freewheeled into Torquay Recreation Ground on Sunday afternoon.
“I quickly found out the saddle on my bike was not designed for a long-distance event,” said Neal.
“By day two I was struggling and ‘borrowed’ some padding from an old cricket helmet to make it less uncomfortable.
“When my dad found an old pair of my goal-keeping shorts, he cut the padding out of them and I fixed them to the saddle with several rolls of duct tape. That was better!”
Neal initially planned a sponsored cycle ride to Birmingham as his half-term week fund-raiser, but Covid-19 restrictions put paid to that. Instead he broke the ride down into seven 50-mile jaunts in an area between South Brent and the Avon Dam to the west, Brixham and Dartmouth in the south and Sowton on the outskirts of Exeter.
“Day three was probably the toughest as I climbed more than 4,500 feet getting from Torquay to the Avon Dam behind South Brent – that’s the equivalent of cycling to the top of Ben Nevis,” said Neal.
“ The following day was Torquay to Exeter and back along the coast road through Teignmouth, Dawlish and Starcross, which was a lot less challenging.”
Neal finished with a ride from Torquay to Countess Wear on the outskirts Exeter and back, meeting up with dad Paul on the last leg.
“By the time we got back to the Recreation Ground in Torquay I think I was suffering from mild sunstroke,” said Neal.
“There were friends and supporters there to greet me and I made a short speech thanking them, although I cannot remember a word I said.
“Just in case I forgot to say it at the time, thanks to everyone who supported me in whatever way.”
Other than acquiring a sore backside from a week in the saddle, Neal had relatively few problems during his week on the road.
“My chain came off three times on the way up to the Avon Dam, but otherwise there were no problems with the bike,” said Neal.
Asked whether he would do it again, Neal said: “Not this week!”
He added: “Alain, one of my older brothers, rode with me and we talked about doing the Land’s end to John O’Groats ride for charity.
“It would take a lot of planning, and you probably need three weeks to do it, but I would not rule it out.”
Dad Paul said he was so proud of his son’s achievement.
“It is almost impossible to put into words how I feel,” said Osborn senior.
“Neal has always been focused on what he wants to achieve and this is an example of what happens when he sets his mind to something.”
Mum Jill said what most people would not know was what her son had overcome to complete the ride.
“Neal has not seen his girlfriend in Birmingham since the lockdown started because of travel restrictions – and has not been able to live at home to protect his father,” said Jill.
Jill added: “Neal was my rock when Paul was ill.”
Neal Osborn’s appeal fund is still open. Visit the justgiving website and search for Neal Osborn to find his page.