FORMER world 1500-metre champion Steve Cram has led a team of charity cyclists on a ride through the Rift Valley in Kenya.
The 150km journey through Kenyan Maasai land raised £15,000 for COCO, the North-East children’s charity that he co-founded over a decade ago.
Funds raised have enabled the building of a classroom at the remote Maasai village of Olorte and the cyclists joined local chiefs, elders and community representatives, some of whom had walked 15km, for the official opening ceremony.
The classroom means the school can accommodate a new intake of students this year and is part of COCO’s work in remote regions of Kenya and Tanzania.
The charity provides education and training for children and their families to give them the opportunity of a brighter future.
After completing the four day ride in 30 degree heat, across challenging terrain and climbing a total of 4,000 metres, Mr Cram, 53, from Jarrow, now a BBC athletics commentator, said: “This has undoubtedly been one of the toughest and most inspiring things I’ve ever done.
“The whole team was fantastic and I’m so proud of all of them for making it. The challenge was so much tougher than any of us imagined.”
“When we got to Olorte, met the children and saw how much the new classroom meant to them, all the effort was instantly worthwhile.
"For all of us it was undoubtedly the highlight and gave the tough final day a real purpose. Everyone at COCO is looking forward to continuing our work with the Maasai community.”
The adventure was conceived by Willetts Safaris, whose founder John Blissett was made an elder of the village of Labentera in the heart of Maasai Land.
The cyclists were given intimate access to the Maasai people and their culture, well off the tourist trail.
Mr Cram was joined on the ride, sponsored by cycle insurer Pedalsafe, by 11 other cyclists including COCO’s chief executive Lucy Philipson and TV presenter and reporter Philippa Tomson, who said: “Initially, I was in two minds about committing to this challenge but it has been one of the biggest adventures of my life so far.
“Cycling through remote Maasai villages, coming across a herd of giraffe crossing the road in front of you and learning about a totally different culture has been a real privilege.
“Despite the tumbles, cuts and bruises I wouldn't have missed it for the world.”