STRIVE Challenge 2016

Why.

I attended the Virgin Disruptors in Education event in London in October 2015 — a truly excellent, thought-provoking and inspiring day, but the thing that stood out for me was the passion I sensed when the work of Big Change was talked about — exemplified by two 12-year-old schoolkids from School 21 confidently interviewing Richard Branson, and Sam Branson eloquently describing ‘growth mindset’ — that growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone: in fact it is often the most challenging experiences in our lives that present us with the greatest opportunities to learn and develop. And as he said, “One thing I have been lucky about with my parents is that they’ve always let us be our people, to find our own passions and purpose. When you find your passion and that purpose, you can achieve great things. A by-product of that is that you create something that you are proud of, and that people around you are proud of”. He was explaining how Big Change supported projects that nurtured young people into looking for opportunity, and being ready to grab it with all their passion when it does arise.

The journey.

So it began. After a short flight to Milan and a 3 hour bus ride into the mountains, we met with the core team of 25 who had already been hiking over Mount Zermatt for 5 days. The arrival was a surprise — Richard Branson, recovering from a recent nasty bike crash and also having just completed the hike — greeted us, as did STRIVE founders Noah Devereux and Sam Branson, and Big Change trustee Holly Branson, who I knew also cares passionately about helping kids find opportunity and make the most of it.

Welcoming words from Sam Branson

Day 1: the hardest physical thing … yet

Rima to Alessandria: 112 miles, 2000 ft of climbing (according to Strava; officially 1082 ft), max gradient 19%

Picture by Adam Slama

Day 2: The Giro D’Italia ruined me

Alessandria to Sestri Levante: 90 miles, 11000 ft climbing (officially 5968 ft), max gradient 20%

Richard Branson, in remarkable shape considering his bad accident was only a couple of weeks before
At 3,700 ft on part of the brutal Giro d’Italia

Day 3: Digging so deep. Heat exhaustion, dehydration, energy sapped

Sestri Levante to Lucca: 88 miles, 8000 ft climbing (officially 3126 ft), max gradient 23%

Sunrise in Sestri Levante
Holly Branson — her enthusiastic emails got me here!

Day 4: Fell off. Got lost. Caught in a Thunderstorm. Swallowed a Fly

Lucca to Siena: 84 miles, 7200 ft climbing (officially 4901 ft), max gradient 17%

Approaching San Gimignano

Day 5: Finito

Siena to Magliano in Toscana: 106 miles, 7100 ft climbing (officially 3687 ft), max gradient 21%

Nothing beats a good biscuit

After the end — Reflections.

Looking out of the window flying back from Rome, the clear sky revealed an expansive vista of the Italian coastline, stretching miles into the distance. It was amazing to think that we had just cycled further than I could actually see across that landscape from the plane. I, and the other people in the team, had achieved something most of us thought almost impossible. Some preparation had helped — but the camaraderie, conquering spirit and incredible supportive environment from the crew and the other STRIVErs were the things that enabled us to do it. I think we all learnt that we can do more than we thought — and that, indeed, growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone. The core team we left behind to carry on this relentless, astonishing journey have my utmost respect — they are going to need those STRIVE principles so much! But I know they will put everything in to completing this.

--

--

Systems Architect and Software Engineering Manager at Bloomberg in London. Passions: photos, music, space, tech, travel, philanthropy & STEM. Opinions my own.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Paul Williams

Paul Williams

134 Followers

Systems Architect and Software Engineering Manager at Bloomberg in London. Passions: photos, music, space, tech, travel, philanthropy & STEM. Opinions my own.