No hidden or personal agendas | Alan Curry

After 12 years of being at the forefront of the LifeCycle Challenge, Alan Curry, the founder, talks about the criticism, hardships and challenges faced by the charity

LifeCycle Challenge founder Alan Curry
LifeCycle Challenge founder Alan Curry

Recently announcing the next destination for the 13th Betfair LifeCycle Challenge, Alan Curry, the organisation's founder and chairperson, says Australia was the obvious choice following the feedback received.

"We chose Australia because of the great feedback we're getting from there and we wanted to get out of Europe. It was getting harder to find a route in Europe. The actual event will take place in October or November," Alan says.

Anyone can participate in the challenge, whatever their level, and Alan has opened the doors of his own gym, Chic Physique in Pieta, for participants to train for free.

"The average cycling time can be anything between eight and 14 hours a day, setting off at 9am and cycling for three hours to every checkpoint. We are holding cycling club meetings here in the gym which will also be an opportunity to meet and bond as a team," Alan explains.

He also says he is doing this to provide a safe environment for the cyclists after facing a loss and a near fatal loss just before the LifeCycle Challenge from Istanbul to Damascus. 

"It was the most dramatic one. We had just lost Cliff Micallef. In the same year, we had almost lost John Cassar who went through a windscreen in a bad accident. It was a really bad year and if I was superstitious, I would have probably called the whole thing off but it in fact brought the whole group closer together.

"But when you look at Syria now, we were probably the last people to visit the country before all the turmoil struck... I guess, in a way, we were lucky that we continued," Alan recalls.

It hasn't been an easy time for the organisation which has also come under heavy criticism from both the media and the public.

"I have taken a lot of criticism from the one or two people who couldn't cope with the LifeCycle challenge. I have had to get my head round the fact that we're going to go places where people will obviously think, 'oh, it's a joyride' or something. It has never been a joyride. There was always a huge team and personal effort," Alan says.

He tells me that the fact that they go abroad is primarily to retain interest from sponsors.

"If we were to simply tour across Malta annually, people would get bored and not bother. The location and distance sparks interest," he says.

People tend to be suspicious when donating as they think more money goes towards the travelling expenses for each individual rather than to the actual cause.

"We don't have a hidden agenda or anything. Around 65% of the funds raised go towards the Renal Unit and the rest of the funds go towards funding the trip but we made this clear from the word 'go'. We're very transparent with our accounts and anyone is welcome to see them.

"Normally, participants will pay a part of their own trip according to how much they raise in sponsorships but we manage to get very good support and deals when it comes to food and accommodation in the various locations. We don't spend any money on anything we don't need," Alan explains. 

The organisation began when Alan wanted to thank the Renal Unit at St Luke's hospital after helping his wife and him get through a very traumatic experience.

"It was 1998, during Christmastime, when my wife had her first dialysis. I just felt like the whole world was coming to an end but Tony Bugeja was actually my inspiration," Alan says.

He explains that he was lost but Tony took the time and explained everything to Alan who says, "I was so impressed, I remember, I instantly knew my wife was in good hands because of him and only him."

To express his gratitude, Alan decided to combine his longing to go on an adventure trip with raising money and chose to cycle across Europe to the UK.

"Tony was so taken aback by it, he obviously joined me on that first trip and the rest is history, basically," Alan remembers, "I had a definite aim. I thought, basically, if I make it so outrageous and so farfetched, I would get the support. People would sit up and take notice."

He recalls facing a dilemma several times, wondering whether he was actually doing it for himself or for the Renal Unit. "And I'll be honest with you, and I have to say this, probably at that moment in time it was a 50/50. A large part of me wanted to do it for myself, and I thought, it's a good excuse to do it so why not do it with the Renal Unit in mind."

Alan also used to wonder whether people were taking part in the challenge for the right reasons but finally understood that it didn't matter.

"At the end of the day, they're still doing a good thing. It used to annoy me if people participating in the LifeCycle Challenge didn't understand the reason they were raising money for but now I realised that it really doesn't matter, because the money is going where it is needed which is the Renal Unit for machines and improving patients' quality of life," Alan says.

To date, politicians, a former British navy officer, a magistrate, priests, psychologists, businesspeople and TV personalities participate or joined in for support.

"I'm not interested in people's positions. I'm interested in people's characters. We've had Ian Castaldi Paris participate who said that doing this brought him back to basics and helped him understand what was important in life," Alan says.

He tells me the group is hoping to get someone from the Labour Party to participate and admits he is surprised that not many University students participate.

"We were expecting more students who were looking for an adventure but that never really materialised. We've only had a couple. We mostly get those individuals who are already well established in their life. We've also had a lot of fantastic women who have taken part. It's not some male challenge or anything," Alan says.

I ask him why he has only participated in four out of the 13 challenges held and he explains that each trip needed a backup team following the cyclists while keeping everything organised.

"There needs to be a main leader because there have been major fallouts and arguments in the past, because people wanted to change directions at the last minute or whatever. There have been plenty of ego trips, which is normal. So, I took a step back and only participated in the ones I really wanted to do," Alan says.

Alan has taken a more background role now and has passed on his 'baby' to other people to take over.

"On a human level, it's hard to let go of something you've created but you have to. But I'm now very comfortable with the situation because I needed to take a step back. Don't get me wrong, I'm still involved but I just help with the organisation from afar. I won't be going on all the trips," Alan tells me.

Alan highlights a number of individuals who truly stood out since the foundation's inception in 1999 which has proven the commitment of the organisation.

"One of the eldest participants, who wishes to remain anonymous, took part for four years running and during this time, donated a kidney for free. He didn't do it for money or recognition, only to help. He's a fantastic character.

"Another cyclist who quit his job just a couple of weeks before a trip because his employer wouldn't give him leave due to the amount of work. These things just prove the amount of commitment there is," Alan says.

But I discover that despite the amount of commitment from those who do understand the organisation and its purpose, many individuals attempt to link the organisation with politics in some way or another, much to Alan's annoyance.

"In all honesty, I'm not interested in politics in the slightest. All we are doing is helping. The government still does what it needs to do and pays for what's need, we're just topping up with our contributions. It has nothing to do with politics. People will use politics as an excuse not to give money.

"We're just trying to do our part and we're proud of what we've achieved until now. Most politicians, from both sides, understand what we are doing and they fully support us. I mean if you go to a hospital in the UK, you can see stickers all over the place saying, 'sponsored by' and no one asks any questions," Alan says.

Whoever thinks that Lifecycle is a joyride is very wrong indeed. It's a very tough challenge. Both physically and most of all, psychologically. But it was also one of the most enriching experiences I've ever had.You learn about renal patients and the hardships they go through. You appreciate your health and thank God that the discomforts your are going through as a cyclist are only temporary, unlike the patients'.You understand how strong (or weak) you really are. And you get to know a bunch of great people (and yourself). So whoever is thinking of joining this year, go for it. But bear in mind that it is no holiday.