When Gareth Murchie, 50, signed up to the British Heart Foundation’s Manchester to Blackpool Night Ride last year, neither him – nor his group of cycle buddies – had a connection to the charity, but halfway through the 52-mile ride, Gareth had a heart attack.
This year he is back in the saddle and determined to finish the ride while passionately fund-raising for the British Heart Foundation’s lifesaving research.
“I have an obligation to do the ride this year,” says the dad-of-two from Farsley. “Last year we did it because it was a different event, because it was at night, this year it really means something to me and I want to raise as much money as possible for the British Heart Foundation and raise awareness. I really believe this event saved my life.”
Despite being a keen cyclist – taking part in a dozen or so competitive cycle rides every year including the Tour de Yorkshire, training weekly with his friends in the Yorkshire Dales – during the week leading up to the Night Ride 2017, Gareth started to feel unwell.
“I began feeling breathless a few days before – but I didn’t go to the doctor in case he said I couldn’t take part in the ride, which I was really keen to do. I held off, thinking that if I still felt ill after the ride, I would go to the doctor on Monday.”
At the start of the 52-mile ride Gareth was feeling in fine spirits but, after 20 miles tiredness and breathlessness came over him.
“I stopped as I was feeling really unwell and my chest was really tight,” he recalls.
“But I thought maybe I just needed some food and a drink. It was only two miles to the rest stop and so I got back on my bike and pretty much free-wheeled there.” But when Gareth and his three friends got to the rest stop for a cup of tea and something to eat he quickly realised it was something more serious than needing refreshment
“I remember it really clearly as I was conscious throughout, I just fell to the ground clutching my chest and thought ‘this is it’.”
Within minutes of arriving at the stop he slumped on the ground having a heart attack. Luckily there were paramedics on site, who realised what was happening and called an ambulance. Within an hour he was at Blackpool Infirmary having a stent fitted to open up his blocked coronary artery.
“Looking back I must have had the heart attack coming on for a few days before the race so it would have happened at some point.
“Taking part in this event saved my life last year. If I was at home, alone and asleep in my bed – as I would usually be at that time – things would have been far worse for me and I might not be here today. I could have been cycling up the Cow and Calf with my friends which would have put them in a very difficult position. As it was, the paramedics and staff at the event were incredible and I cannot thank them enough.
“Last year I was taking part in the event because I thought it would be an unusual challenge – but I had no connection to the charity. This year I’m determined to raise as much as I can for the British Heart Foundation as I have learnt first-hand the importance of the research they fund and the work they do.
“They also directly fund nurses as well so it isn’t just research, they are helping people every day. There’s far more to having a heart attack than I ever realised, it’s not like on TV or in the films. There’s so much more that comes afterwards, and when I read up on what the BHF do and spoke to my sister – who’s a nurse and works with someone who is directly funded by the BHF – I could see the importance all around.”
Gareth has made a full recovery although he still has to take medication and undergo regular checkups. His doctors have given him the all-clear to take on the ride again this year and cross the finish line.
“I think my recovery was made quicker because of the speed I had the operation. The blockage was removed so quickly and I was only in hospital for three days and then had a few weeks off work.”
Gareth doesn’t know if his heart condition is hereditary as he is adopted, but he says he has changed his lifestyle since.
“I was pretty fit due to cycling to work in Leeds every day and going out in the Dales at the weekends but I probably drank a bit too much and I did smoke when I was younger although I haven’t done for ten years. I’ve lost a bit of weight and have never felt better so I have no worries about taking part in the night cycle again this year.”
At midnight on October 6 Gareth and around 3,000 riders will set off from the Old Trafford Cricket Club in Manchester and take on the 52-mile challenge, heading for the glow of the Blackpool sea front and famous illuminations, which will be left on especially for the occasion.
Last year, the Manchester to Blackpool Night Ride raised £110,000 which will go towards helping to better understand how to prevent, diagnose and treat heart and circulatory diseases and beat heartbreak forever, and this year the charity hopes to raise even more from this event.
Anyone interested in taking part in this year’s event, should visit www.bhf.org.uk/M2B for more information or to sign up. If you would like to support Gareth’s fund-raising, visit www.justgiving.com/fund-raising/Gareth-Murchie and donate to the British Heart Foundation.
The BHF its supporters to pay for its ground-breaking research into heart and circulatory diseases, including stroke, vascular dementia and conditions that increase their risk, such as diabetes.
In the Leeds area alone there are around 79,600 people living with heart and circulatory diseases.