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Expat cyclist ‘Everests’ for newborns in Vietnam    
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Expat cyclist ‘Everests’ for newborns in Vietnam
Jul 10 2017

While most of Ho Chi Minh City was getting its beauty sleep last Sunday morning, June 11, expat teacher and cyclist Matthew Wright was setting his GPS and prepping his bike for an epic charity ride.

Spurred on by a desire to do difficult things on bikes, and motivated by his support for Newborns Vietnam - a cause which had touched the lives of close friends, Matthew set himself the enormous task of ‘Everesting’ Nui Dinh, a 300 meter climb in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, 80km southeast of the city.

For those unfamiliar with ‘Everesting’, it is what it sounds like - climbing the equivalent of Mount Everest, all 8,848 meters of it - in one ride. Going by the rules, this means multiple repeats of one appropriately steep hill, but given the scarcity of such hills around the city, Nui Dinh was it for Matthew.

“I’d thought about Everesting as a personal challenge to myself a couple of years ago,” he said. “I ride about 10,000km per year, but the most climbing I’d ever done was 4,400 meters on a trip to Taiwan.”

Hard lessons

A frightening prospect to anyone who has ridden a bike, ‘completing an Everest’ is rightly considered one of the toughest challenges in the sport.

To put it into an elite context, at this year’s Tour de France one of the toughest stages of the race will include just over 4,500m of climbing through the French Alps.

Achieving close to double that in one ride requires training, commitment and an immense physical and mental fortitude, especially when you add a weak GPS signal and a slight miscalculation.

“I used an Everesting calculator that told me I needed to do 27 climbs, which meant that it would take around 14 hours,” Matthew said. “But I overestimated my speed slightly so by about midday it became apparent that it would take much longer.”

To reach the milestone, the Geography teacher from Sheffield, England set off just after 4:00 am, and wound up completing 31 soul-sapping ascents of Nui Dinh.

On its own, Nui Dinh is a fairly innocuous 10km loop with an average gradient of around 5 percent, (peaking at a more challenging 15 percent) – meaning it’s not a steep climb by Tour De France standards – but 31 times in row is an extraordinary feat of endurance.

According to Strava, an app which tracks ride data, Matthew was on his bike for an amazing 18 hours, stopping only for food and water (protein bars, pasta, and bananas), and covered an incredible 337km.

His original estimate had been 262. Despite the ‘moving goalpost’ as he called it, he knew he would not stop.

“If it hadn't been for the donations, the support on the day and online, and the great cause that is Newborns, plus the personal connection with David and Becky for this challenge, I wouldn’t have completed it.”

Matthew also singled out one rider who helped him get through it.

“A good friend of mine, Marian Von Rappard did 12 climbs with me in the morning, then travelled home to Saigon, but came back [a 160km round trip] to do 10 more once he realised it was going to take longer.”

Repeating history

Also cheering on Matthew was the event’s organiser, David Lloyd, a Hanoi-based photographer, journalist, and cyclist, who called the event The Isla Climbing Challenge.

After he and his wife Becky were affected by a neonatal death last year, he wanted to do something to highlight the work that Newborns does.

The event was originally intended to be a two- or four-hour challenge to rally the cycling community. Matthew took it on himself to raise the bar.

“This was the first year,” he said. “And Matt is a close friend of my wife and I, so he really went for it with extra beans.”

Having ‘Everested’ Ba Vi Mountain outside Hanoi for Newborns Vietnam in 2014, David understands the magnitude of Matthew’s achievement, as well as the importance of the fundraising he is doing for the UK-registered charity.

An important cause

Latest WHO (World Health Organisation) figures reveal that Vietnam’s neonatal mortality rate of 12 per 1,000 births, remains higher than the Asia Pacific regional rate of 9, meaning the money is going to an important cause.

Suzanna Lubran is the Executive Director of Newborns Vietnam, a volunteer organisation focused on reducing preventable newborn deaths.

She passionately believes that every child deserves the chance to celebrate their first birthday no matter where they’re born.

By sharing British neonatal expertise and bringing over expert neonatal doctors and university trainers from the UK, she says the group is accelerating improvements in newborn care in Vietnam.

The proof is in the numbers. From 2013 to 2015, Newborns’ pilot neonatal care programme at Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children resulted in a 50 percent reduction in mortality for newborn babies.

“Our work to train nurses and doctors in newborn care, and to provide lifesaving equipment is almost entirely funded by men and women from all walks of life,” Suzanna said, “including athletes like Matthew.”

“Their efforts are helping us bring the care of newborn infants in Vietnam closer to the standard of care that we take for granted in our own countries.” - Tuoitre.vn