DCU graduates prepare to cycle across America

Gareth Lyons

As Covid-19 brought the world to its knees in Spring 2020, one man refused to have his goals and dreams suppressed.

On his personal social media pages, the former DCU student, Cormac Ryan, penned a message to his followers: “It’s important to still have hope. It’s even more important to still dream. Despite the tragedy around us, we have to continue to live. Next Spring I’m going to chase something I’ve dreamt of doing for a long time. Cycling across America. Over 5,000km coast to coast. California to New York.”

Unfortunately as a result of ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic in the USA, this event was recently rescheduled for September 2021. “Every so often the situation regarding being able to enter the United States from Ireland looked like changing and then it wouldn’t. There were just too many ways for it to go wrong in April,” Ryan said.

The purpose of this monumental challenge is to raise much needed funds for Pieta House and Bodywhys.

In 2011, Ryan had just finished an inter-county campaign as goalkeeper with the Dublin minor hurlers, however less than six months later his world was shaken by the news that he needed a pacemaker, that contact sports were off the table and that he was blessed to be alive. A diagnosis of atrioventricular block led the then eighteen-year-old towards struggles with depression and anxiety. Such an experience has inspired Ryan to raise funds for Pieta House.

The ex-Dub’s desire to support Bodywhys is also born out of his personal experiences. Ryan is open in addressing his complex relationship with his body and food: “I’ve experienced the inner turmoil and self-loathing that comes with body dysmorphia and obsessing over how you look. I want to bring awareness to an issue that nearly always goes unspoken about.”

Cycling across America has been a dream for the former DCU student since 2015, however in the past two years the idea came to the forefront of his mind a lot more: “I knew if I wanted to do it that I needed to make a decision and go for it.”

Although the original plan was for the Athletic Therapy and Training graduate to tackle this gruelling challenge alone, Ryan now has the peace of mind which comes with knowing that he will be joined on his travels.

The DCU graduate will be accompanied by the former St Pat’s DCU student Niall O’Donnell, as well as his cousin Stephen Ryan. The trio have previously participated in charity cycles around the coast of Ireland on behalf of ‘Cycle for Life’, which has raised over €50,000 for a plethora of charities including Aware and Irish Heart Foundation.

Cormac, a physiotherapist, and Niall, a bike mechanic, will be hoping that their professional abilities will not be drawn upon too often. Perhaps the most daunting aspect of this challenge is the team’s decision to cycle without the assistance of a support van.

The intended route will see the team visit California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and finally, New York.

“We just want to get over there and take it day by day. We have a target we want to reach each day. We may not hit it or we may overshoot it, and then we’ll just throw up a tent wherever we are,” Ryan commented.

150 kilometres per day is the magic number for the trio. This would see the team reach ‘The Big Apple’ in roughly 40 days.

Ryan, who works in a rehabilitation unit, found his working life transformed by the arrival of Covid-19. Between April and August 2020, he and his colleagues were split into two separate teams in an attempt to reduce any harm caused by a potential Covid-19 outbreak in the workplace.

Ryan’s team either worked a morning shift or an evening shift, as opposed to their typical nine-to-five day. This allowed the Whitehall native to devote either his morning or evening towards training: “Covid in terms of training was a blessing in disguise. I got such an extensive block of work done right through the summer.”

During the initial Irish lockdown, Ryan was forced to improvise. After all, where does one train for such a task when they are unable to venture outside a 2km radius from their home?

To many people passing by, Ryan may have looked insane as he repeatedly cycled laps around a deserted oval-shaped car park, however in the mind of the former DCU student, this was his personal 400-metre velodrome.

“I’m not necessarily training for high performance. To get across America on a bike I have to get used to chronic load, so being tired everyday and still having to train again the next day. My training approach has just been about trying to recreate that. I might run a half marathon and then do 100 kilometres on the bike the next day. It’s not the best thing to advocate for as a physiotherapist, but to train for what I’m trying to do, it’s my only choice,” Ryan said.

In the days and weeks which followed Ryan’s social media announcement, the Whitehall native was inundated with messages of support and requests from friends and family wondering how they could contribute towards the fundraising effort.

In an attempt to involve as many people as possible in this fundraiser, without straying from government restrictions, Ryan launched the ‘421 Cyclathon’.

The two Ryan cousins heroically cycled upon stationary bikes for 31 hours and an additional minute. This specific length of time consisted of an initial 24 hours, followed by a further 421 minutes, one extra minute in memory of each of the 421 deaths by suicide in Ireland in 2019. At the culmination of each hour, the pair were joined by a new group of cyclists.

The ‘421 Cyclathon’ resulted in approximately €10,000 being raised, with nearly 200 people participating.

Overall, the trio have currently raised €13,219. Donations towards this charitable endeavor can be made here.

Gareth Lyons

Note: This article was originally published on 27/01/2021 but re-uploaded due to a fault with our site.