Olympic athlete cycles 20,000km to help charity

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Coming home to many of us might be a short journey, but for Rebecca Wardell, of Lake Hawea, her trip home has spanned the globe and has taken almost a year.
Since April last year, the Olympic athlete has been cycling ‘‘the long way home’’ from Geneva to Lake Hawea.
Along the way she has been raising funds for the Forward Foundation, a charity that encourages young girls to get involved in sport.
While working in Switzerland for the International Olympic Committee, she formed an idea to cycle 20,000km, raising $1 per km for the foundation.
Beginning in Geneva, she has cycled across countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Friends joined her along the way, in particular Olympian Emma Twigg who rode with her until Istanbul, and rowing champion Sarah Van Ballekom, who shared the journey for about six months until they were partway through China.
Each day on average they were cycling 82km, sometimes doing as much as 170km in a day.
Other days were a challenge — ‘‘pushing bikes through sand and mud’’ — and they would be cycling about 35km a day.
While in western China they ended up ‘‘sleeping under the highway in drains’’ when no other accommodation was available.
‘‘Some days the road would just turn to mud and you are just pushing the bike all day.’’
Highlights included ‘‘amazing scenery’’ in Tajikistan and seeing the border fence with China.
The ‘‘kindness of strangers’’ was a big part of the journey — ‘‘people would invite us into their homes, and feed us’’.
From Singapore, a flight took to Japan for a brief four days’ rest in Tokyo, before she arrived in New Zealand to continue her journey from Matakana to Lake Hawea.
Her family had been coming to the area for many years.
‘‘We have had a place in Lake Hawea since the 1980s, and Mum and Dad retired here and I also bought a place in Lake Hawea.’’
Wardell had used the same bike throughout the adventure, and it was a big moment when she hit 20,000km, which happened a few days ago ‘‘outside Christchurch’’.
Her adventure finishes tomorrow with a homecoming with family, about ayear since she set out on April 30.
After reaching her goal of raising $20,000 for the Forward Foundation, Wardell has continued fundraising. All further funds will go towards victims of the Canterbury shootings.
‘‘Seventy-five percent of the journey was in Muslim communities, so we wanted to pay it forward.’’
To give, visit www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/the­long-way-homeause/the-long-way­home

Global journey . . . A map shows the 20,000km cycle trek undertaken by Olympian Rebecca Wardell. PHOTO: SUPPLIED.