It takes a certain kind of bravery to give a challenge which almost claimed your life a second go.
But when Joe Barr takes to his bike on June 10th to beging a gruelling 3000 mile trek across some of America’s most challenging terrains as part of the Race Across America 2014- he will be kept going by the thought he could be helping many Irish families affected by cancer.
His mammoth cycle - covering in excess of 300 miles a day through deserts, mountain ranges and every weather condition possible - will allow him to fundraise to help expand the American charity ‘HopeCam’ to Ireland.
“There has never been a sustainable model of this kind of service in Ireland before,” Joe said. “Basically the charity provides a connection for a child from hospital or wherever they are being treated to their home or to school so that they can keep a real connection with their peers.
“Alternatively it has been used for parents who undergoing treatment and who are in hospital and cannot see their children to allow them to engage with their families.”
Hopecam provides cancer patients not only with the equipment to be able to talk to each other via webcam - but also covers the connectivity costs for 18 months.
Having experienced the devastating effects of cancer in his own home, Joe has been fundraising for cancer charities since 2009 - shortly after his son Ross was diagnosed with cancer while still a baby. His wife, Sinead, has subsequently been diagnosed with cancer and continues to fight her own battle.
But even with this motivation so close to home, Joe has had to prepare himself not just physically but psychologically for the event - which he first attempted in 2012.
A skilled cyclist with a world cup under his belt Joe met the first challenge with enthusiasm but, just short of a third of the way through the race he was forced to pull out.
“I try to see it as an education,” Joe said. “I’ve learned a lot from it - things that we are taking with us when go again.”
While Joe comes across as very matter of fact about the learning experience he had first time round - it is soon clear that the adventure could have ended very differently indeed.
After spending two days cycling in the Mojave desert - at temperatures as high as 59 celcius - a rapid ascent of the San Juan Mountains led to a serious case of altitude sickness.
“We went from 6000 feet to 13000 feet in one night to reach a place called Wolf Creek Pass. In hindsight I went up too fast - and as a result of my body temperature plummeted. We were trying all we could but I couldn’t get my temperature up.
“It was at that stage I literally spent 24 hours just stepping one step at time to get to over the top - but when I reached that, I just couldn’t go down. I couldn’t see in front of me.
“It was then we hit a tunnel which runs down the mountain - cool air is pumped through it - and for me, being in the condition I was in - it was like going into a freezer.”
Very luckily for Joe there was a hospital located just four miles outside of that tunnel - and he is sure that if he hadn’t made it there he would not have survived the ordeal.
But yet, although the race was lost at this stage and he was physically incapable of getting back on his bike he made the decision to continue with his team along the route to prepare him for taking on the challenge again.
“I knew, even when I was lying in hospital, that I would be doing it again,” Joe said. “It was just a matter of when.”
Taking on board all that he had learned first time round, Joe has undergone intensive training with the help of his ten strong team to make sure he is as prepared as can be for what lies ahead next month.
“We knew we had an issue with heat and altitude - so I have been preparing using a heat acclimatisation chamber and taking part in altitude training so that I can climb to 15,000 feet.
“I have been using the notes I made from the first time - to help plan as best we can and I know that I am ready to go out there and go for it.”
His training is now complete - and it is a matter of getting ready for the off on June 6.
“We are ready to go now,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is deciding that I have the capability to do it - that I have the strength and courage to take this on. You have to be honest with who is helping you - so my team know what they are getting from me. They know when I get on that bike I will be giving it 100%.”
Of course physically getting ready to take on the challenge was not enough - and even with his good intentions of raising money for Hopecam, Joe still needed a sponsor to fall in behind him and his team’s efforts.
“All our team are volunteers - no one is getting paid. Any money we raise from this will go directly to Hopecam - but we realised we needed people to come in behind us to cover our costs.”
The answer to this came close to home when Derry Journal Group Editor William Allen made contact with Derry man Tony Culley-Foster - from Today’s Ireland in the US.
Tony went into action and secured funding from the SODEXO corporation.
Coincidentally, the Race Across America, which will start in Oceanside, California, is due to finish in Maryland, where SODEXO are based.
Joe and his team and looking forward to meeting their sponsors - and representatives from Hopecam at the finish line.
“We have three goals, the first is to finish. If we can manage that, we we would love a position finish and well, if I make the podium it will be like all my birthdays and Christmasses all at once.”