Wheels are in motion to help forces charity
THE BROTHER of a special forces officer killed in Afghanistan has set off on an 874-mile cycle ride in his memory.
Dave Downing, who lives in Stoke, has never been an endurance athlete like his brother Squadron Leader Anthony Downing, who was a competitor in Iron Man and marathon events.
'Ant', as he was affectionately known, was seriously injured when the vehicle he was travelling in was caught in an explosion south of Kabul on December 22.
He was flown back to Britain but died of his wounds the next day.
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As a result, 32-year-old Dave said he wanted to do something to raise money for the charity that supported his family during the hard times.
Dave explained: "My brother was killed in Afghanistan in December. He was very much into his ultra marathon and endurance events. When my brother was killed the RAF Benevolent Fund helped my family a lot, especially while Ant was still on life support in hospital in Birmingham.
"It was a charity Ant supported and I thought it would be good to do something that would support them."
A keen surfer and skier, Dave said cycling from John O Groats to Land's End with friend Chris Tremblet was "completely off the radar", and has become something of a training ride in a bid to recreate a cross-America cycle Ant did in just 25 days.
"Ant was in Georgia on a peace keeping mission and he met an American who told him how he rode his motorbike across America in four days. Ant said he could do it on a pedal bike in four weeks.
"After getting home he flew to Los Angeles, walked into a bike shop in California, bought a bike and cycled 3,091 miles to Ocean City; he did that in 25 days just for a laugh."
Dave will be using that same bike Ant bought in California.
"It's a triathlon bike so it's a massively inappropriate piece of kit for long distances.
"He would probably raise one half of his monobrow and say that it was alright. He was an incredibly modest person.
"We found out a lot about him after he died, like the fact he was a volunteer for the Samaritans; he was giving six or eight hours of his time on a Saturday to listen to other people. He would encourage people to do things so I think he would be approving of this challenge.
"This a training ride really to see if I'm capable of doing long distance rides.
"I cycled down to St Austell for training and it was stupidly hilly cycling into the wind the whole time. "
The pair grew up in Dover before Dave, a freelance surveyor, moved to Plymouth 14 years ago.
Dave said if he goes ahead with the cross-America cycle he would then choose to raise money for Combat Stress.
"I think there are going to be massive problems with people coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq with mental health issues," he explained.
"Firstly we are men and secondly this is Britain and those two things are trouble; I see it with people I work with who have been on boats and been away for months. It's a massive problem."
To follow Dave's bike ride on his online blog or to sponsor Dave and Chris visit www.longwaydownhill.blogspot.co.uk.